December 1, 2002
Starring: Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Benno Fürmann, Mark Addy, Peter Weller, Francesco Carnelutti, Mattia Sbragia, Mirko Casaburo, Giulia Lombardi, Richard Bremmer, Cristina Maccà, Paola Emilia Villa, Rosalinda Celentano, Alessandra Costanzo, Paolo Lorimer,
The resurgence of religious horror films in the late ‘90s produced a lackluster crop. From End of Days (1999) to Stigmata (1999) this sub-genre has been unpopular with both audiences and critics. End of Days took the Hollywood action film sensibility and tried to insert it into a horror film. To compensate for a lack of sincerity and heart, the filmmakers relied too much on CGI and the casting of action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stigmata also suffered from miscasting with a passive actress like Patricia Arquette for a role that required a strong presence and even stronger direction (which the film also lacked). Critics and audiences had lost interest in this sub-genre by the time The Order was released. Originally entitled, The Sin Eater, its release was delayed with rumours that the special effects had been tweaked after a bad test audience screening. This didn’t help the movie’s chances and it quickly disappeared from theatres.
Father Alex Bernier (Ledger) is a Catholic priest questioning his faith. He resides in a nearly empty rectory in New York City at a time when people are turning their backs on the church. When the head of his order is killed by a mysterious man (Furmann) in Rome, Bernier is enlisted to go and investigate. He learns that his mentor did not die from suicide, as officially reported, but was killed by a Sin Eater, someone who absorbs people’s sins just before they die.
Like Stigmata, The Order suffers from weak casting of the film’s protagonist. Heath Ledger, while an able actor, was not the right choice to play the role of Father Bernier. His performance comes off as a little bland as he unsuccessfully tries to grunge himself down and portray a flawed character.
However, the casting of Benno Furmann was right on the money. Capitalizing on his piercing eyes and the low key intensity he brought from his memorable role in The Princess and the Warrior (2000), he shows the tortured side to his character that gives a depth and a pathos that Ledger is not able to convey.
The screenplay, at times, is not very clear. When Mara (Sossamon) and Alex meet, they allude to a past but the dialogue does not provide any context. The audience has no idea what they are talking about—what is the nature of their relationship? Helgeland’s script also suffers from cliché lines like when someone dares to utter, “when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back at you,” which is almost as worn-out as the “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” bit.
Trailers for The Order marketed it as an action-packed thriller but in actuality, it is more dream-like in nature. Scenes drift in and out of each other with the characters often uttering abstract lines of dialogue. Instead of the traditional, action-packed confrontation, The Order eschews traditional action sequences and flashy special effects for thought-provoking ideas and a climax that is filled with emotional fireworks.
There is an audio commentary with the film’s writer and director Brian Helgeland. He talks about how the entire film was shot in Rome (even the scenes set in New York City!) and also how he used a lot of the same crew (and even some of the same cast—Ledger and Mark Addy) from his previous film, A Knight’s Tale (2001). Alas, most of Helgeland’s commentary is a tad on the boring side as he drones on in a monotone that is hard to listen to.
Also included are eight deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by Helgeland. It is pretty obvious why most of these scenes were cut but one in particular, where Bernier gives a dying child his last confession, foreshadows what he will become later on. Helgeland mentions that this scene was to be Bernier’s introduction and establish his troubled nature and his inquisitive attitude towards death.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer which shows that the studio had no idea how to market this movie.
The Order is a frustrating movie to watch because it becomes obvious early on that it is a bad movie with a good one somewhere in there trying to get out. The DVD features a skimpy collection of extras that don’t shed much light on what happened to this movie. Helgeland certainly deserves an A for effort as he tried to go against the tide of mainstream horror films but he failed in the actual execution.