Synopsis: Vatican intelligence operative Father Quart investigates an anonymous message sent to the Pope concerning a crumbling Spanish church that “kills to defend itself.”
Stars: Richard Armitage, Amaia Salamanca, Fionnula Flanagan, Franco Nero, Paul Guilfoyle
Director: Sergio Dow
Running Length: 116 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: Over my time writing for this blog (and indeed from my introduction to movies), I’ve learned never to get my hopes up too high going in, lest I be less than impressed with the final product. So, believe me when I say nothing would have pleased me more than to write a favorable review for The Man from Rome because it carries a premise that should have been a slam dunk for even marginal entertainment. Based on Spanish author Arturo Pérez Reverte’s 1995 novel La piel del tambor (The Skin of the Drum), which has already been adapted for Spanish TV in 2007, the film is by all accounts a close adaptation of Reverte’s work, but something has been lost in the translation.
See if you can follow along to the (very) basic outline. A rogue hacker has found their way into the Vatican’s security network, bypassing firewalls and finding their way to send a message directly to the laptop of the Pope (a barely awake Franco Nero, Django Unchained), who is doing some late-night emailing in bed. The message informs His Holiness of a church in Seville set for demolition, which has been responsible for the death of at least two people in a kind of spiritual self-defense. In response, the Vatican sends in priest/detective Father Quart (Richard Armitage, Into the Storm) to investigate the misbehaving church, and what he uncovers is far more dangerous than a cathedral with a vengeance.
Look, I approached The Man from Rome with an understanding that some suspension of disbelief would be essential to its enjoyment. (A killer abbey? Take THAT The Da Vinci Code!) While I’m sure there are members of the Vatican like Father Quart who are dispatched to debunk unexplained phenomena, and I’ve no doubt some are young and in shape, I’m not sure they would be walking around sweaty and shirtless on public balconies after doing push-ups. I’m also positive they wouldn’t be interacting with members of the opposite sex quite so vigorously as Armitage does with Amaia Salamanca’s potentially duplicitous heiress whose family has a vested stake in the terrorizing tabernacle.
Those are silly nitpicks, though, items often waved off in mainstream thrillers with other elements going for them. Elements like an intriguing plot, slick dialogue, and engaging performances that The Man from Rome doesn’t have. As devoutly committed as Armitage is in playing Quart, he’s an often-lethargic presence roaming around the center of a company that isn’t in any rush to move the overly layered plot along. Nine (Nine!) screenwriters have apparently made their contributions on top of one another, and that leaves director Sergio Dow and editors Pablo Blanco and Miguel Angel Prieto to piece together disparate scenes, which give the action a disjointed flow. There’s never an urgency to the mystery, no thrill to late-breaking twists, or poignancy to how religion plays a part in it all.
The sleepy score from Roque Baños (In the Heart of the Sea) is a consistent
annoyance presence, coming off like the looped tuneless music you hear when you pause a PlayStation 5 RPG game to answer a lengthy text. With the actors barely speaking above a hushed whisper (this is a movie which takes place largely in churches and other religious inner sanctums, so I guess it tracks) and the accents all over the place (wait until you hear the great Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan, Song of the Sea, try on a Spanish dialect) perhaps it is better to focus on the music. The only actor I was moderately intrigued by was Alicia Borrachero’s former nun turned restorationist, but even then, Dow has directed her to be so overly passionate about the smallest details in dialogue out of the gate that it winds up diminishing the effect of more pivotal scenes later on.
I checked the bibliography for Arturo Pérez Reverte to see if he wrote any other novels featuring Father Quart because I could see this property being picked up again down the line and the character used for further religious mysteries, although the scary Evil on Paramount+ is filling that niche nicely now. Unfortunately, La piel del tambor was the only example I could find with Quart, but perhaps we should count ourselves fortunate that The Man from Rome is staying put. Mostly ludicrous when it isn’t asleep in the pews, you’ll want to find another travel companion if you’re seeking a religious thriller.