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.