review for The Crime of Padre Amaro on AllMovie

The Crime of Padre Amaro (2002)
by Todd Kristel review

Vicente Leñero adapted his screenplay from a 19th-century novel by Portuguese author José María Eça de Queiróz, but his updated version of this story of morally compromised priests seems very contemporary. Unfortunately, it does not seem very subtle. Granted, the filmmakers have avoided some potentially lurid topics that could be dragged into this type of story. Also, they have made some effort to show that the film's protagonist, Father Amaro (Gael García Bernal), has both good and bad traits. Nonetheless, the film is so ham-fisted and melodramatic that it seems less a tragic tale of human fallibility than a sordid potboiler about corruption in the Catholic Church. The film doesn't establish whether Father Amaro is a flawed man torn between his idealism, pragmatism, and base desires or simply a cynical opportunist who neither cares nor thinks deeply about the moral issues he confronts; the relative lack of internal struggle and soul searching makes both the character and his story arc less interesting than they could have been. Bernal is compelling in some scenes but almost devoid of expression in many others. The rest of the cast fares somewhat better; for example, Damián Alcázar is compelling as Father Natalio, perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film, while Angelica Aragon gives a strong performance as Father Benito's lover Sanjuanera. The story is still pungent enough that it has some emotional impact despite the heavy-handed and simplistic approach, but this could have been a much more complex and moving film.