There are few jokes crueler than casting Heath Ledger as a celibate priest, especially when he is virtually the only draw in a movie that otherwise looks like garbage. The Order isn’t big on irony, and neither is Ledger’s alter ego, Alex, a priest of the Carolingian order, a Catholic sect rapidly approaching extinction that is charged with dispatching various demons and ghoulies back to the depths of hell. When the sect’s leader, Fr. Dominic, dies unexpectedly, Alex journeys to Rome to unearth the mysteries of his mentor and their faith.
Because he is handsome and mysterious, Alex has acquired a hanger-on in the form of Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), who is in love with him and follows him to Rome. He is also met there by Thomas (Mark Addy), a fellow Carolingian priest. They discover two strange markings on Dominic’s chest, and their research leads them to the legend of the sin eater, not so far out of their own fringe Catholic realm of exorcism and battle against evil spirits. The sin eater is a damned (but not eternally damned, it turns out) alternative to God when it comes to absolving the sins of the dying, and he is called to duty by those who have fallen away from the church or, like Dominic, been excommunicated for heresy. Alex finds the sin eater, William Eden (Benno Furmann), rather easily, and it’s never clear why he’s so intent on finding him, or what he plans to do with him when he does. Eden, though, is certain of his plans for Alex, who he puts through a temptation-wringer worthy of a serpent.
Writer/director Brian Helgeland has been quite prolific since writing the masterful, Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential in 1997, developing what appear to be good relationships with Clint Eastwood (Blood Work, the upcoming Mystic River), Mel Gibson (Conspiracy Theory, Payback) and Ledger (A Knight’s Tale, which also starred Addy and Sossamon). Not all of these have been great movies, or even good ones, but Helgeland has a taste for Hollywood popcorn flicks and writing quietly tormented and bottled-up male heroes.
Alex is by no means Helgeland’s best piece of work, but you can sense that had The Order been made by someone with less of an innate understanding of what does and doesn’t work on screen, it would have been a Hiroshima-scale meltdown. It’s nowhere near that bad (despite Fox refusing to screen it for critics, usually a sure sign of a terrifyingly awful movie). The Order merely seems a tad too abridged and allegorical, lacking a sense of purpose that might have given Alex’s quest a reason and motivation beyond fate.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].