September 05, 2003 4:12pm EST
Father Alex Bernier (Heath Ledger) and Father Thomas Garrett (Mark Addy) the last two members of an ancient Catholic order called the Carolinians are summoned from New York to Rome to investigate the mysterious death of their former mentor. The crime scene shows signs that some sort of ritual took place and strange marks on his chest indicate that his death was anything but natural--and they're right. Before his death Dominic (Francesco Carnelutti) who had been excommunicated from the Church had called upon something known as a "sin eater" to "ingest" his sins so he could get a clear shot at the pearly gates. As the myth goes a sin eater is an immortal being who absolves the unforgivable of their sins outside the Church by "eating" their sins. Alex begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together but what he doesn't realize is that the sin eater named William Eden (Benno Furmann) is tired of his immortal life on earth and fraught by centuries of evil needs someone to eat his sins grant him eternal peace and take over the torch. He offers the post to Alex but when he turns down the job Eden is forced to use the woman he secretly loves Mara (Shannyn Sossamon) to manipulate the situation to his advantage.
Ledger (The Four Feathers) is quite convincing here as the complex character Father Alex Bernier. He is old-school yet young and rebellious; he is dedicated to the institution of the Carolinians but also questions some of the Order's traditions. One of the hardest issues Alex grapples with is his fuzzy feelings for Mara a suicidal woman who once tried to kill him during an exorcism. The character a tormented artist is played by Sossamon a wonderful actress who after starring in The Rules of Attraction has truly mastered the dark and troubled persona. Sossamon and Ledger however had much more on-screen chemistry in the period romance A Knight's Tale than they do here. Their relationship in The Order has a platonic feel to it that taints their eventual physical escapade which isn't all that sexy considering how taboo it is. German actor Furmann however steals Ledger and Sossamon's thunder as the sin eater Eden. Eden is such a dichotomous character: he believes in God and is a very spiritual being but he also recognizes the corruption within the Church. He truly considers himself a god and Furmann is able to channel that pre-eminence in an odd sensual kind of way.
Director Brian Helgeland's The Order you may recall was originally slated to open Jan. 17 but 20th Century Fox postponed the release because of some unintentionally funny special effects. A post-production insider who spoke to Variety on condition of anonymity said the effects depicting sins flying out of the human body looked "like calamari." Eight months of post-production work later the flying sins went from looking like calamari to box jellyfish complete with long clear tentacles. But the interesting thing about the effects is that they're not even necessary. Written by Helgeland (A Knight's Tale) this unique story--like most supernatural tales involving religion stigmata and exorcism--is incredibly scary but these blatantly silly special effects only interrupt the chilling tale.The rest of The Order with its cool bluish hues and dusty sets is extremely well shot. Apart from the flying sins effect the only downside to the film is that it has too many subplots which detract from its most interesting premise the immortal sin eater.
Harrison Lloyd (David Strathairn) is a world-renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who has it all: a devoted wife two beautiful children and an illustrious career. Although his wife Sarah (Andie MacDowell) is supportive of his career she wishes Harrison would spend more time at home being a husband and father rather than gallivanting around the world taking pictures. Before long Harrison is whisked off overseas to cover bloody ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia and is presumed dead after the Yugoslav National Army flattens the town he is in. Sarah however is convinced Harrison is still alive because "something would have broken inside if he were dead." She barricades herself into a room with half a dozen televisions determined to uncover something about her husband's whereabouts. Miraculously she sees an image of Harrison in a crowd of civilians being hoarded to the small Croatian town of Vukovar and decides to go there herself and bring him back alive. Despite warnings that war-torn Yugoslavia is not the place for her she manages to dodge bullets and Soviet T-55 tanks while waving around a 5x7 color glossy of Harrison yelling "Have you seen this man?"
As Sarah Harrison's devoted wife Andie MacDowell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) is convincing but irritating. While we feel for her and desperately want her to find her husband alive there is nothing more annoying than watching her traipsing around yelling "Harrison? Harrison!" while the destruction of what was once the breadbasket of the region happens all around her. Adrien Brody (Summer of Sam) plays Kyle Harrison's archnemesis who ends up helping Sarah in her efforts to find Harrison. Brody is probably the most believable and well-developed character in the film despite hokey lines like "We better both pray that some day we find somebody that loves us the way she loves him." No one actually talks like that do they? In the role of Harrison's friend and colleague Yeager is Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line). His character is supposed to be this famous photographer (we know this because he is credited for that famous photograph of the confrontation between a Chinese student and a T-59 tank during the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration) but he is completely despicable. He comes off as a pompous know-it-all rather than a good friend to the Lloyds.
Director Elie Chouraqui wants us to believe MacDowell's character is this brave devoted wife but I found it hard to sympathize with her predicament. Sure it's sad that Harrison is missing and all but forgive me if I found myself more troubled by the execution of thousands of innocent men women and children instead. And in Vukovar amidst the dead bodies of Serbs and Croats she still finds time to take pictures and send them back to the press in the United States. The pictures come out crisp and sharp despite the fact that she shoots most of them in the dark--without a flash. Come on! What takes the cake however is the blatant Schindler's List rip-off: We see a little girl in a yellow dress who stops and smiles for a picture only to end up dead later in the film with a photographer exclaiming "It's the girl in the yellow dress!" It is also hard to buy the film's plot when when all we really know about Harrison is that he likes flowers which are the only thing he photographs in color. Overall Sarah's plight to find her husband almost seems petty in lieu of what is going around her.