Romero (film)

Romero is a 1989 American biopic depicting the story of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero, who organized peaceful protests against the violent military regime, eventually at the cost of his own life.[3] The film stars Raúl Juliá as Oscar Romero, Richard Jordan as Romero's close friend and fellow martyred priest, Rutilio Grande, as well as actors Ana Alicia and Harold Gould. Although the film depicts true events, there are some fictional characters.[4]

Directed byJohn Duigan
Produced byEllwood (Bud) Kieser
Written byJohn Sacret Young
Music byGabriel Yared
CinematographyGeoff Burton
Edited byFrans Vanderburg
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • August 25, 1989 (1989-08-25)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,316,495[2]


During the 1977 El Salvadoran presidential election, public unrest is at an all-time high over fears of election fraud. In the midst of a guerrilla uprising, the military regime sends death squads to detain, torture and kill anyone who speaks out against its terrible human rights record. The military also prevents average citizens from getting to the polls; soldiers are shown blocking a bus bringing people to town on election day. When the people decide to walk, the military shoots up their vans so that they have no transportation for the return journey.

The Vatican elevates conservative yet reserved Oscar Arnulfo Romero (Raul Julia) to the position of Archbishop of San Salvador, hoping that with he will not get involved in the military dispute. Although apolitical, Romero is afraid of the government's increasing hostility. He initially refrains from stirring anti-government sentiments, but progressively, as he spends more time in his post, he sees evidence of deception, oppression, and systemic murder, after which he cannot support the government in good conscience and speaks out.[5] After the assassination of Father Rutilio Grande (Richard Jordan), an outspoken Jesuit advocate for the poor and close friend of Father Romero's, Romero begins to take a stand against the government's policies, prompting the death squads to begin targeting priests.[6]

After failing to rescue a pro-government hostage of the guerrillas in a botched ransom, Romero discovers that his friend Father Osuna (Alejandro Bracho), a militant critic of the ruling regime, has been captured and tortured. After securing his release, Romero instigates a boycott of the president-elect's inauguration, defying him by taking Mass in a church the military has taken over as a barracks. He later attempts to secure the release of a soldier taken hostage by Osuna and the guerrillas, but is arrested in the process. Osuna is subsequently tortured to death.

Undeterred, Romero rejects the violent methods of the guerrillas, but is nonetheless assassinated while saying Mass, specifically while consecrating the Eucharist. In the last scene it freezes to take a moment to state Archbishop Romero was murdered on March 24, 1980. "He had spoken the disturbing truth. Many chose not to listen. As a result, between 1980 and 1989 more than 60,000 Salvadorians were killed. But the struggle for peace and freedom, justice and dignity goes on."[7]



Romero is the first feature film from Paulist Pictures, a company founded by the Paulist Fathers, a Roman Catholic society of priests. This was the first time a Catholic company produced a major film.[8] The company was also known for the production of a long-standing television series called Insight. The film was screened in 1989 at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was directed by Australian filmmaker John Duigan and produced by Paulist Pictures founder Father Ellwood (Bud) Kieser. Alfonso Cuarón, a Mexican film director, worked as an assistant director for this film. Composer Gabriel Yared, who went on to win BAFTA Awards and an Oscar for his other scores, composed the music for Romero.


Romero was generally well received by critics. The film currently holds a 75% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on eight reviews. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a mildly positive review, awarding it two and-a-half stars out of four. Ebert praised Julia's "restrained and reasonable" performance but felt that the film was predictable and therefore not as powerful as other biopics.[9] Spirituality and Practice gave the film a positive review stating it as an "excellent drama" with most of the praise going towards Raul Julia in his performance as Romero.

Romero did receive criticism on how it did not shed light on US involvement. The Los Angeles Times stated the fact that "the film doesn't deal with the role of the American government in El Salvador's plight, beyond a plea from Romero for the US to stop sending arms that will be only used against his country's people."[10] Furthermore, because there were a lot of historical aspects depicted in the film, The New York Times reviewer Vicent Canby thought that the film "is more important as the brief, considerably simplified biography of a heroic man than as cinema. The film's manner is that of a textbook."[11]


  3. Roth James (March 2001). "What is wrong with "Romero" Film". JROTH. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  4. Ebert, Robert (September 8, 1989). "Romero". Review. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  5. Ebert, Roger. "Romero Movie Review & Film Summary (1989) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2015-12-08.
  6. "El Salvador remembers Archbishop Romero". BBC. 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2015-12-15.
  7. Romero. Dir. John Duigan. By John Sacret Young. Prod. John Sacret Young. Perf. Raul Julia and Richard Jordan. Four Seasons Entertainment, 1989.
  8. Sirico, Robert (n.d.). "Liberation Cinema: A Review of Romero". Web Page. Action Institute. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  10. Thomas, Kevin (September 15, 1989). "'Romero' Fails to Explore the Depths of Central American Tragedy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 25, 2018.
  11. Vincent Canby (August 25, 1989). "Romero (1989)". Film Review. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
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