Review by Dustin Putman
1 star out of 4
For those critics that jumped the gun by ludicrously labeling "Gigli"
the worst motion picture of the yearonly to call "My Boss's Daughter"
a close runner-up only weeks laterseeing "The Order" may quickly cause
them to change their minds. Written and directed by Brian Helgeland
(2001's "A Knight's Tale"), something apparently went disastrously
wrong with "The Order" either during the writing stage or throughout
filming. A severely muddled, lethargically paced religion-based thriller
without any thrills or even vague signs of entertainment value, "The
Order" may not be the worst film of 2003 for methat unlucky distinction
still goes to the wretched "The In-Laws"but it might as well be if
the deciding factor is against the underrated "Gigli" and "My Boss's Daughter."
Simply on a basic aesthetic level, "The Order" is a failure. The
lighting (a discourtesy by cinematographer Nicola Pecorini) is often
so murky and flat that the action onscreen is practically indistinguishable
in select scenes. There is a sizable difference between dark and atmospheric,
and dark and ugly, and Pecorini apparently did not receive the memo
on this subject. So dreary is the movie for so long, in fact, that
when the sun finally rears its head midway through, the viewer response
is one of brief blindness.
Amazing, how a motion picture as relentlessly talky as "The Order"
makes so little sense and is filled with more questions than answers
(scenes of action or suspense are few and far between). The hodgepodge
of a plot involves a brooding young priest named Alex Bernier (Heath
Ledger) who travels to Rome to investigate the mysterious death of
his mentor and the head of his religious sect. He is accompanied on
his quest by Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), a potential love interest and
past exorcism subject who has freshly escaped from a New York City
asylum. Eventually, they run afoul of Eden (Benno Furmann), a crooked
600-year-old sin eater known for stripping his victims of their wrongdoing
just before death, who is looking to pass the cursed torch to Alex.
In all fairness, the unattractive visual look of "The Order" fits
with the experience of watching a film as emotionally inert as this
one. The basic outline of the plot holds some promise and could have
evolved into something thought-provoking, but it is mangled every
chance it gets. The characters, particularly romantic protagonists
Alex and Mara, never connect with each other on a personal level and
their backstories remain unclear. When the viewer is asked to care
about their fates near the end, the viewer is at a complete loss because
their relationship has never been developed; due to this, you just
do not care about them in the faintest. Every character, however,
loves to talk, which they gladly do for about 98 minutes of "The Order"
(the other four minutes are reserved for credits) and still never
say anything with clarity or consequence. So intent is writer-director
Brian Helgeland (who once was an Oscar-nominated screenwriter) in
making his plot complicated that he shortchanges the characters, their
relationships, and the thrill factor. The picture is like the energizer
bunny without the energy and half the sense. As much as it keeps plugging
away in its exposition, it wouldn't be able to startle an 85-year-old
octogenarian with a bad ticker.
Signaling a promising cinematic idea that came to a highly unfortunate
fruition is the participation of Heath Ledger (2001's "Monster's Ball")
and Shannyn Sossamon (2002's "The Rules of Attraction"), talented
performers who had real chemistry together in "A Knight's Tale" and
here should merely be credited for keeping a straight face during
some of their more inane lines of dialogue. As Alex Bernier, Ledger
plays the troubled priest at war with his faith in typical fashion.
Meanwhile, Sossamon looks lost in a flimsy role that she probably
didn'tand couldn't possiblyget a firm grasp on.
As a horror-laced, introspective look at religion, "The Order" pales
in comparison to recent similar efforts, such as 1999's "Stigmata"
and 2001's "Lost Souls" (and they didn't exactly set the world on
fire, either), too dull and meager to even ignite much outrage from
religious groups. And as nothing more than a good time, it is a very
monotonously boring experience. "The Order" was originally titled
the more provocative and appropriate "The Sin Eater" before being
given its strictly generic current one that is identical to the name
of a 2001 direct-to-video Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. At least its
studio, 20th Century Fox, was smart enough to recognize what company
it deserved to be placed with.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman