The criticism of Romero following its release was consistent if not positive. Critics recognized the producer’s good intentions in making the film, but most felt that it missed the mark. Some felt insulted by the movie’s obvious manipulation of the audience’s sympathies, and most agreed that many of the actors were miscast or just bad. Richard Higgins of the Boston Globe complained that “the need to compress three intense years into 105 minutes creates scenes that are wooden or forced.” Except for one dissenter, every critic lauded the performance of Raul Julia as Archbishop Romero despite the uninspiring circumstances in which he worked. Those who addressed the political and religious aspects of the movie felt that the film clearly took the side of the left-wing catholic moralist and downplayed the obvious political statement that Romero’s actions implied. Critics disagreed on the adequacy of the attention given to the violence carried out by the government and also on the extent to which the plot was given “Hollywood” embellishments. Some critics suggested that the movie should have been made in Spanish to broaden its audience and add authenticity. Romero made an attempt at presenting a true story of one man’s struggle but was not received well by most critics due to a consensus that the writing and supporting actors were below par.
Arnold, Gary. “Movie Canonization of Romero Plods On.” Washington Times 8 September 1989: E3.
Romero will not be one of the most politically influential films of the year because few theatres will show it and only spectators who subscribe to its political and religious morals will go to see it. This film can serve as a definitive poor example of a canonizing biography and a dubious landmark in Hollywood for Paulist priest Ellwood Kieser. The movie seems to suggest that the civil war in El Salvador could have ended in 1980 if the U.S. government had let the revolution of Romero’s people take its course. Even this biased message loses credibility with the miscast roles of Julia and Jordan, who usually play villains. The dialogue is repetitive in some places and absurd in others. The directing takes influences from 50's movies it should not, which makes it a stupefying experience.
Blake, Richard A. “Greatness Thrust.” America 23 September 1989: 167, 174.
Film is a bad medium to illustrate the inner workings of the changing of a man’s soul because it can only show the exterior. Nevertheless, Romero is a loving tribute that works because of its concentration on the development of a weak man into a leader. While the movie clearly takes the side of the people of El Salvador, it does not simplify matters because it shows the positive and negative sides of both the rich and the poor. Julia’s acting is the strength of the film despite some melodramatic writing, inexperienced directing, and disappointing score. Despite its shortcomings, the film is an extraordinary memorial to Romero and an insight into the political conflict in Central America.
Canby, Vincent. “El Salvador’s Slain Hero of the Cloth.” New York Times 25 August 1989: Section C; Page 15, Column 1.
Romero is a biographical movie about the Salvadoran archbishop’s life, politics, and murder. This is the first attempt at a feature length movie by producer Reverend Ellwood E. Kieser and Paulist Productions. Julia plays a decent part in the title role of director John Duigan’s American debut film, which works better as a history of Romero’s life than as a work of cinema.
Higgins, Richard. “Good Intentions Don’t Save Romero.” Boston Globe 17 November 1989: Arts & Film; Page 89.
Romero is a well-intentioned movie that succeeds in portraying the Archbishop as a man who anguished in his love for the people because of the performance of Raul Julia. The movie falls short, however, in accurately portraying El Salvador by moving too quickly through the three-year history it covers. Many of the actors look more American than Salvadoran, a fault that upstages Richard Jordan’s portrayal of Father Rutillo Grande. The “Hollywood” approach used by filmmaker Ellwood Kieser makes for strong and moving scenes, but the movie’s moralizing fails to persuade or satisfy in the end.
Hinson, Hal. “‘Romero’.” Washington Post 8 September 1989: PAGE B7.
Raul Julia plays Oscar Romero as an extremely mild man at first who then becomes a radical leader. The movie presents his change as moral instead of political by making it a result of his viewing the atrocities acted on the people by the government. In ignoring the political issues involved in Romero’s struggle, the film clearly tries to manipulate its viewers to share the presented point of view. Romero suffers from bland filmmaking with cardboard characters who detract from Julia’s performance by making his choices seem clear-cut. Despite these limitations, Julia makes Romero’s crisis a deeply human one that survives the poor support.
Kauffmann, Stanley. “Romero (movie reviews).” New Republic 11 September 1989: 26.
Romero was made as an historical film rather than a documentary, so it is subject to aesthetic criticism. The drama of the movie underneath the story is Romero’s deepening faith as a result of his involvement with the fate of El Salvador. The facts of the film make the events that follow them even more disturbing, such as the continuation of the civil war, which resulted in 60,000 deaths. The message loses impact, however, because of poor writing that can serve to canonize Romero but not to renew or awake interest in new audiences. Romero gets a review grade of B.
Kroll, Jack. “Archbishop Romero Acts Out a Modern Gospel.” Newsweek 18 September 1989: 80.
Producer Ellwood Kieser, a Paulist priest and TV producer, worked under the approval of the Catholic church for seven years to a $3.5 million budget for Romero. The movie backs Archbishop Romero’s combination of Christian beliefs with political action and portrays him as the hero he is. Romero spares the Hollywood spin of Salvador and Under Fire, which look at El Salvador through the eyes of an American. The truth in the story overshadows any Hollywood embellishment, and director John Duigan accurately shows the atrocities carried out by the right-wing government. The heart of the movie comes from the psychological and political depth of Romero’s transformation. Duigan doesn’t draw on these assets as other directors could, but he creates a powerful film nonetheless in his straightforward presentation.
Thomas, Kevin. “Romero Fails to Explore the Depths of Central American Tragedy.” Los Angeles Times 15 September 1989: Calendar; Page 1.
Raul Julia’s excellent portrayal of the Archbishop cannot save Romero from its faults. The film unfolds with the basic outlines of a tragic tale but fails to follow through due to miscasting of important roles and a feeling that the movie should have been shot in Spanish. The conspicuous absence of the U.S. government as well as the sugar coating of the role of the Vatican adds to the synthetic feeling of the movie, which does not even address the severity of the cruelty involved in Latin American political struggles. The movie may have worked out better had a Salvadoran filmmaker been used. The acting includes stiff performances by extras and miscast actors in critical roles. The strength of the movie comes from Raul Julia’s ability to squeeze a great performance out of a poor script.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Nathan Henry Laver, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.
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