There are moments of sheer cinematic beauty in Of Gods and Men, and even though the film appears rather dry at times, it is these spectacularly visual (and often emotionally powerful) moments that make the film as strong a presence as it ends up being. The devastatingly true story of a group of Christian monks in Northern Africa who decide to, in order to help those they have come to help (with medical attention, help with food, spiritual matters), stay in the village they are in rather than flee when extreme Islamic terrorism comes dangerously close to home. As time crawls on, the monks realize more and more that to stay means to die at the hands of the terrorists, and it is this idea - belief and ideals vs. self-preservation - that moves the movie along.
Director Xavier Beauvois, whose last feature film was 2005's Le petit Lieutenant, gives the film an extra intensity by structuring it like the crescendo of an opera. Starting off unalarmingly, the film builds and builds in thematic force until reaching the inevitable tragic outcome. It is the penultimate scene, the power nearly reaching the proverbial boiling point, that is that most intriguing moment of cinematic beauty talked about earlier. Showing these self-doomed monk's final dinner together, the scene plays out much the same way Leone's thrice-angled gun fight in The Good, the Bad & the Ugly. It is a strange connection to make since the films are so dissimilar, but the way each scene plays out in their own way makes for a bravura intensity indeed. [05/12/11]