You will spend a lot of time shaking your head during The Order, the newest film from writer/director Brian Helgeland (who co-wrote and won an Oscar for L.A. Confidential). The film introduces a labyrinth of ideas, but rarely capitalizes on any of them. The film is a throwback to religious horror films of the late 70’s and early 80’s, such as The Exorcist and The Omen. Time will only prove that The Order does not belong in the same distinguished lineup as those two films.
The plot picks up in Rome with the death of the head of a “dying” order of priests known as the Carolingians. His passing leaves plenty of unanswered questions. Strange marks are left on his chest, perhaps the work of a Sin Eater. Simply put, a Sin Eater rids a person of their sins and offers absolution and last rites. This in turn allows them a path to heaven. It is a sort of back door to heaven, if you will.
Sent to investigate the death from New York is Alex Bernier (a miscast Heath Ledger). He is a priest himself and one of the few Carolingians left. Along the way he enlists the help of Mara Sinclair (Sossamon), an artist who once tried to kill him during an exorcism. Father Thomas Garrett (Addy) also comes along in search of answers.
Much of The Order is characters explaining what is going to each other, yet we as audience members can barely comprehend what is happening on screen. The majority of the film is shot in moderate to horrible lighting, making just viewing it a frustrating experience.
The film leaves gaping plot holes aplenty. For instance, why would Alex trust Mara to come with him after she already tried to kill him? She says she will not try to again, and that is that.
Benno Furmann steals the show as William Eden, the Sin Eater. He has an Edward Norton-esque way of acting, and makes the perfect counter to Ledger’s Alex. We finally find out what sin eating is in a round of special effects routines which at least give the movie a bit of action.
Perhaps what is most baffling about The Order is why Brian Helgeland, an obviously talented writer and director (tack on screenplay work on Blood Work and Mystic River to his resume), went forward with this project. The film reportedly spent one year plus on the shelves at Fox before being released, and was not even screened for critics upon its theatrical released. Never a good sign. Hopefully this will be a rare snafu for Helgeland.
As predicted, The Order raised a big stink with the Catholic Church upon its arrival in theaters. This is hardly anything that Catholics (or any other religious denomination) should get worked up about. This has to be one of the most inconsequential films dealing with religion ever made.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Length: 102 Minutes
Rating: R for violent images, sexuality, and language.
Theatrical Release: September 5, 2003
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Written by: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Heath Ledger, Shannon Sossamon, Benno Furmann, Mark Addy, Peter Weller, Francesco Carnelutti