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Dustin Putman

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The Order (2003)
1 Star

Directed by Brian Helgeland
Cast: Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Mark Addy, Benno Furmann, Peter Weller, Francesco Carnelutti, Mirko Casaburo, Giulia Lombardi
2003 – 102 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violent images, language, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 6, 2003.

For those critics that jumped the gun by ludicrously labeling "Gigli" the worst motion picture of the year—only to call "My Boss's Daughter" a close runner-up only weeks later—seeing "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 me—that 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't—and couldn't possibly—get 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.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman