Fox // 2003 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 1st, 2010
A gripping tale of suspense, spirituality and murder -- of the highest order!
The death of Heath Ledger was an undeniable loss to the film community. However, with all the praise heaped on the final triumphs of The Dark Knight and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, it can be hard to remember that in the ten years Ledger spent in the spotlight between 10 Things I Hate About You and his untimely death he was involved in as many suspect films as he was great ones. Although I've yet to see a performance by him that was anything less than interesting, too often the film's he worked on didn't deserve his talents. The Order (Blu-ray) is a perfect example of this problem. Ledger gives his performance a conflicted intensity that's frankly amazing, but nothing else about the film supports his commitment. Nothing about this prefunctory Blu-ray port of the previous DVD helps the film's cause, either.
Priest Alex Bernier (Heath Ledger) must go to Rome when he discovers that the head of his order, Carolingians, has been murdered. Accompanied by a young woman he saved via exorcism (Shannyn Sossamon, The Rules of Attraction), Father Bernier's investigation leads him to the trail of a "Sin Eater" (Benno Fürmann, Anatomy), someone who can go outside the Catholic church's hierarchy and save people directly by absorbing their sins. This discovery puts Bernier at odds with himself and the Church, especially Cardinal Driscoll (Peter Weller, Naked Lunch).
Let's face it. Heath Ledger is the reason most people are going to try to watch The Order. That's not a misplaced desire. For Ledger fans, The Order offers loads of dark, broody intensity from the Aussie actor. His character is the center of the script, and perhaps the film's only fully developed character, which gives Ledger a lot to work with in terms of conflict and emotional depth. The film also calls into question Bernier's faith, and Ledger had a magnificent way of making that conflict physical in looks and body language.
Although most people will be attracted to the film for Ledger's performance, he's not the only worth thespian on display. Peter Weller as the scheming Cardinal Driscoll grabs onto the role with apparent gusto and chews through all his scenes with obvious delight. Mark Addy as Bernier's friend in the order, Father Garrett, offers some welcome comic relief. Sadly, neither of them are on screen for long enough, and together these three aren't enough to really keep The Order from being a disappointment.
The film's first problem is the screenplay. Writer/director Brian Helgeland knows some stuff about screenplays having penned the fantastic L.A. Confidential. However, something went very, very wrong with The Order. It starts with the basic premise: there's this semi-immortal guy outside the Church hierarchy offering salvation by taking on the sins of others. He absolves the sins of the rich in exchange for wealth, a kind of mercenary savior. It's a pretty cool idea, and having him come into contact with a priest in a threatened order who is having some doubts about his faith sounds like a good idea on paper. The problem is that it should have stayed on paper. The Order is a really good idea for a novel, a place where the moral ambiguities and subtle machinations of the Church could be explored in depth with constant reference to the psychology of these characters. Instead, we get a string of murders, a conflicted priest, no real villain, and ultimately a story without drive or conviction.
The other big problem with the film is the casting of the other leads. Shannyn Sossamon is a fine actress in some roles, but she's totally wasted here. She's just a generic placeholder because Bernier needs a woman to test his faith. Sossamon does a decent job of fawning over Ledger as Bernier (though I think you'd have to look pretty hard to find a woman who wouldn't do a good job fawning over Heath Ledger), but I get no sense of her personality or why Bernier would be in love with her. Likewise, Benno Fürmann has done some excellent work, but he too is generic, portraying the Sin Eater as a kind of Euro-trash bad boy with very little development.
As for the Blu-ray, it's a standard port of the previous DVD. We get the film in an AVC encoded transfer, and while the hi-def upgrade helps, the picture still has some problems. Some of the darker scenes get noisy, and the fine detail wasn't nearly as strong as I would have expected from such a recent movie, even if the film's dark atmosphere is generally well represented. The DTS-HD Master Audio track keeps dialogue audible and uses the surrounds in some places, but the extra resolution is somewhat wasted.
Extras start with a commentary by writer/director Brian Helgeland. He's obviously happier with the film than audiences, but he provides production anecdotes and some sense of the moral conflict he wanted to explore. We also get a set of deleted scenes that flesh out the characters a little bit, and the film's theatrical trailer.
Heath Ledger fans will probably enjoy seeing his performance in The Order. Considering how rarely Peter Weller seems to come to the big screen, his fans will want this flick as well. However, pretty much everyone else will likely find the film plodding and a little dull. Unless you're obsessed with upgrading all your DVDs, there's very little to tempt the previous DVD owners into buying this Blu-ray.
Send in the Sin Eater because The Order is guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 3.0 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes