October 14, 2010

Blu-ray Review: The Order (2003)

Playing a bit more like the muddled pilot to a television series, The Order sees writer/director Brian Helgeland re-team with star Heath Ledger following 2001's A Knight's Tale. I remember looking forward to this back in 2003 and just being terribly disappointed with the product. While the story was based on an interesting concept, the execution strikes me as more than a little lacking in punch, both visually and narratively. With that in the back of my head, I was eager to take a look at this Blu-ray release. It is the first I have experienced the film since it was on the big screen and I was curious to see how time had been to it, if my opinion would be changed based on the additional cinematic experiences since that first viewing or through the prism of seeing Ledger's past based on where he went.

Well, now having seen it again I have to report that while I do not feel it is a downright awful movie (which I did for some time), I still do not think it is all that good. If you focus on the concept instead of the narrative it is moderately entertaining but still rather flawed and ultimately insubstantial.

As the movie opens we are introduced to an elderly man named Dominic. Shortly after his introduction he dies of an apparent suicide. The scene shifts to New York where we meet Father Alex (Heath Ledger). He is something of a rogue priest with a thirst for knowledge and a love for the old school, evidenced by his celebrating the Mass in Latin with his back to the congregation. He is approached by Cardinal Driscoll (Peter Weller) who tells him of Dominic's death. This sends Alex to Rome to investigate.

Along for the ride is Mara (Shannyn Sossaman), a pre-priesthood love of Alex and a recent mental hospital escapee where she had been sent for having shot Alex during an exorcism. To help balance out the odd sexual tension is Father Thomas (Mark Addy), the only other member of the Carolingian order aside from Alex. Oh, I hadn't mentioned that? Well, the order is why this suicide investigation means so much to Alex and Thomas, Dominic was their mentor who died excommunicated and alone.

The story is much more than the investigation, it is about a character called a Sin Eater, someone who lives outside of time and has the ability to take the sins of a person on their death bed thus allowing them to enter Heaven without having to confess anything. It is this part of the story that holds the most interest for me.


The idea of the Sin Eater and the implications that go along with it are fascinating. Think about what he endures and what he does based on what you learn here. It is a shame that this is only part of the story, blending with a conspiracy to steal the Pope-dom, the murder mystery, and the test of faith brought by Mara. There is a lot going on here, but none of it comes together in an interesting manner.

When you step back and look at what happens over the course of this movie and you will find a lot of stuff to like. The problem is that it all needs more room to spread out and breath a little. This would have been much better suited to a series where this film could have been spread out over the course of a season. The movie is rated R, but it is a very tame R that could have been done for television.

As for Ledger, he does a fine job of delivering the brooding intensity needed for the character. I could have seen him playing the title role of Constantine in similar fashion, probably better than Keanu Reeves did. What hurts him here is the screenplay which hampers him with some bad dialogue, not to mention his embarrassing whimpering over Mara (you'll know it when you see it). It is not that I don't understand the emotion of the scene, I am just commenting on how it goes down.

The Blu-ray is an upgrade over the DVD, but it is not a terribly good looking one. I do not really blame the poor look of the film on the transfer, it is actually a good representation of the big screen look. That look is muddy, dark, and underlit. Yes, the look can be a good one and has been used to great effect in other movies, but not here.

Back to the disk at hand. It is better than the DVD, but lacks much in the way of fine detail and when the scene turns dark (which happens frequently) the detail gets lost and the noise turned up. Overall, it is not the best example of the format and only worth the upgrade for the fans.

The disk does come with a few extras. The trailer is included alongside about twenty-minutes worth of deleted scenes and dailies. Nothing special there, but it still interesting to see what didn't make the cut. The most substantial extra is a commentary with writer/director Brian Helgeland. On the track he talks about the development of the story, shooting locations, cast members, and more.

Bottomline. Better on paper than on the screen. This is mediocre at best, sloppy at worst, and worth a viewing. If nothing else, it will give you some neat ideas about old world concepts and how they could be adapted to the current time.

Very Mildly Recommended.

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Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Order (2003) on Blogcritics.


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