Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations


Although I avoid religious films that have a holy message to relay, I have become a cheerleader for Angel Studios because of the two films I have seen, the box-office-wonder Sound of Freedom and now the beautiful and engaging biopic, Cabrini. They have a production richness not only exemplified in the realistic and lush cinematography (shout out to Cabrini lenser Gorka Gomez Andreu), but also believable heroes such as the human trafficker hounds in the former and the canonized Mother Cabrini (Cristiana Dell’Anna) in the latter. Both films have the same director, Alejandro Monteverde.

The realism and the goodness of the characters helps make the two films memorable for putting us directly in the action (in Cabrini 1899 New York City) and only subtly sanctifying the heroes. The elements of first-rate filming are in Cabrini: original music by Gene Back that captures spirituality while exalting humanity, Alisha Silverstein’s spot-on period costumes, and an equally-impressive Carlos-Lagunas production design. Over them all is a lean and effective story by Monteverde and Rod Barr aided immensely by the creative editing of Brian Scofield.

As always, the acting makes the difference: Besides Dell’Anna’s award-worthy interpretation of the diminutive “entrepreneur,” David Morse’s archbishop is imperious and difficult, matched growl for growl by John Lithgow’s intractable mayor. Senior to them is the impressive Giancarlo Giannini as Pope Leo XIII, who assigns the NYC slums to Cabrini’s future as the eventual patron saint of immigrants.

Mother Cabrini, despite her failing health and being a woman in a paternalistic society, is a superlative example of the feminist Gloria Steinem could imagine: kind and ambitious, tough and savvy, in love with children who need her love. It would be next to impossible not to shed a tear watching her build an orphanage and then hospitals in the spirit of her selfless mission to help the disadvantaged.

But then that is what this film does as it portrays the uncomfortable world of early 20th-century poverty while encouraging us to clap for the heroism of Cabrini and her soldiers, including a Mary-Magdalene-type prostitute, Vittoria ( Romana Maggiora Vergano). The comparison to Christ’s journey is never emphasized, all the better to realize the everyday heroism of our fellow humans.

I am impressed once again by the ability of director Monteverde and the Angel Studios to craft a biopic that reeks of reality while it spiritually transports to the worlds of authentic heroes. Cabrini is, like the current Oppenheimer, a true, albeit “inspired by,” biopic with heart and grit.


Director: Alejandro Monteverde (Sound of Freedom)

Screenplay: Monteverde, Rod Barr (Is That You)

Cast: Cristiana Dell’Anna (Toscanna), John Lithgow (Bombshell)

Run Time: 2h 25m

Rating: PG-13

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take (recently listed by Feedspot as two of the ten best NPR movie podcasts) out of WCBE 90.5 FM, Columbus, Ohio. Contact him at

John DeSando