The Order (2003)

Rating: C+

Dir: Brian Helgeland
Star: Heath Ledger, Benno Furmann, Mark Addy, Shannyn Sossamon

Outside marriages and tourism, I’ve not been to church for fifteen years, yet still enjoy religious thrillers – especially if they depict an institution corrupt and rotting from within. So it is here: Alex (Ledger), one of the last members of a dying order of priests, investigates the suspicious death of his mentor. This leads him to William Eden (Furman), a “sin eater” paid by the excommunicated to hear confession, a practice abhored by the Vatican, who want to maintain a monopoly on entrance into heaven, of course. Which side is truly ‘good’?

It’s an interesting and well-thought out premise, though I can see why the studio buried the film – how in hell do you sell something like that, especially under its original title, The Sin Eater? The main problem is that Helgeland, an Oscar winner for LA Confidential, seems to have forgotten about the characters. Only the eternally-young Eden comes across with depth; otherwise, it’s shallow stereotypes, e.g. jovial Irishman (Addy), mad artist (Sossamon, showing as little ability as in The Knight’s Tale – inquiring minds want to know, is she screwing Helgeland?), suspect cardinal (Peter Weller). Still, it has a fine recreation of St. Peter’s in Rome, and a bunch of creepy moments and ideas, even if the special effects are underwhelming, and the execution generally flawed enough to explain why it was shelved for eight months.