Holy crap. That should’ve been the tag line for writer-director Brian Helgeland’s new supernatural thriller, perhaps the most punishing public entertainment since Christians were fed to lions.
While the director of the medieval romp A Knight’s Tale, Helgeland is most notably the Academy Award winning author of the screenplay for “L.A. Confidential.” He also penned the script for Clint Eastwood’s upcoming “Mystic River,” a film rumored to be a likely Oscar contender. So one does not expect to find one’s self watching mumbly, ill-defined characters utter third rate Led Zeppelin lyrics like “He delved in secrets dark and deep” in the opening of one of his pictures. But, surprise, one is in for nonstop nonsense here as lame as that and worse.
Heath Ledger plays a young priest undergoing a crisis of faith: He doesn’t believe in speaking up so the audience can hear him! OK, that’s not what his crisis of faith is about but he does do an ungodly amount of mumbling in this movie. He’s brought to Rome to look into the mysterious death of a fellow priest (the one who did the dark, deep delving) and, like most young clergy brought to Rome to look into mysterious deaths, he’s accompanied by a saucy minx who has the hots for him.
Shannyn Sossamon costars as a young woman who’s had a crush on Ledger-and I’m not making this up-ever since he performed an exorcism on her. Ledger’s character evidently has taken a vow of one dimensionality though because he’s oblivious as a wooden Indian to her love vibes and spends most of his time chatting with morgue attendants and TV’s Mark Addy (“Still Standing”) in the role of a couch potato of the cloth who’s devoted his life to comic relief.
Many of the scenes shared by Ledger and Addy are constructed with a jawdropping lack of care. In an early one, for example, Heath encounters a pair of demon spawn in a graveyard, is nearly knocked into the next world by them and, at the last second, succeeds with the help of some I think old Black Sabbath lyrics in transforming them into hundreds of tiny computer generated birds which take wing but fails to mention the encounter to Addy when he happens by a moment later.
Making an addled scenario even harder to follow is the fact that Helgeland has given his story two bad guys without taking the time to properly flesh out either one. Peter Weller plays a calculating Cardinal with an evil scheme to make himself Pope. The German actor Benno Furmann is a character called the Sin Eater.
When people who’ve been excommunicated or are committing suicide are about to die, he provides the service the Church denies them; he hears their confessions allowing them to enter the kingdom of heaven with a clean slate. Unlike a priest, however, he achieves this by absorbing their sins. You wouldn’t think there’d be a lot of demand for that sort of thing in this day and age but the guy has grown fabulously rich doing it. The problem is he’s also 600 years old and ready to retire. He wants Ledger to take over for him and he isn’t especially good at dealing with disappointment.
That, believe it or not, is the crux of Ledger’s crisis of faith. On one hand, he believes deeply in the tenets of the ancient, unmodernized Church. On the other, he believes he might just enjoy having a private jet and a saucy girlfriend.
It’s a ridiculous premise for a motion picture. Even more preposterous is the fact that the director resolves the plot in such a way as to set the stage for future installments chronicling the exploits of the Sin Eater as though he were a superhero in some moody graphic novel.
No need for that. This is the last we will be seeing of the Sin Eater. Anyone who sees “The Order” is going to have minimal interest in seeing more and Brian Helgeland, I strongly suspect, is already anxious for the day when everyone will have forgotten all about this dimwitted debacle.
Religion and horror have proven a potent combination in the past. With its hokey dialogue, stick figure characters, glacial pacing, ho hum effects and mumbling, however, this is a far cry from “The Exorcist” or “The Omen.” Those were unforgettable stories of Christianity’s dark flipside. “The Order,” in contrast, is little more than a Godawful mess.