Five people are killed in a freak accident when a lofty rope bridge collapses. A priest journeys to discover if there was a divine reason for this bloody disaster. Set in Lima, Peru, during the 18th century and based on the Thornton Wilder novel.
Mary McGuckian (This is the Sea) has produced a handsome, if curiously inert version of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning novella. While the story presents a compelling inquiry into the nature of fate, this fourth adaptation, after a 1944 movie and 1958 tele-film, never quite overcomes some odd casting decisions. Set in Lima, Peru in the early-1700s, the story concerns the inquiry by Brother Juniper (Gabriel Byrne) into the deaths of five travelers who drowned when the bridge they were crossing collapsed. Was it divine intervention or random chance? As Juniper tells the Archbishop (Robert De Niro, making no effort to disguise his New York accent), while on trial for heresy, "Either we live by accident and die by accident or we live by plan and die by plan." Using his trial as a framing device, McGuckian flashes back to the circumstances that led the victims to their date with destiny. The primary players include the Viceroy (F. Murray Abraham), La Marquesa (Kathy Bates), the Abbess (Geraldine Chaplin), Uncle Pio (Harvey Keitel), La Perichole (Pilar López de Ayala), and twins Manuel and Esteban (Mark and Michael Polish of Northfork fame). So who fell? Unlike previous productions, the answer won't be revealed until the end, at which point Juniper will be forced to put his findings into a theological context--or suffer the cost. --Kathleen C. Fennessy