The Order (Blu-ray)
Directed by Brian Helgeland
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 102 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, 2.0 surround Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: September 14, 2010
Review Date: September 20, 2010
There was an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery during its second season entitled “The Sins of the Fathers” which starred Richard Thomas as a “sin eater” in 19th century Wales. It was a creepy and unsettling episode and obviously memorable, something that Brian Helgeland’s The Order could have used more of since it, too, deals with sin eaters only this time in present day Rome. The germ of a good idea is present here, and written by the Oscar-winning Helgeland, the film might have developed into something more engrossing and certainly more coherent than the film we’re now left with had he been able to concoct a plot that featured more eerie tone and menace and less supernatural mumbo jumbo. Plot-wise, it’s a mess, and its leading man, Heath Ledger, while spottily effective also lets the movie be taken away from him by another actor who invests his role with much more powerful charisma than Ledger was expending at this time in his unhappily brief career.
Word comes in New York City to Father Alex (Heath Ledger) that his beloved mentor Father Dominic (Francesco Carnelutti) has died in Rome, possibly the victim of some unsavory offshoot of the Catholic Church calling himself “The Dark Pope.” He is dispatched to Rome by Bishop Driscoll (Peter Weller) to learn the truth about the death, and he takes along with him a girl who had been smitten with him and is now recently released from a mental institution Mara (Shannyn Sossamon). In Rome, with his worldly priest friend Thomas (Mark Addy) along for divine guidance, he learns that dark, spiritual forces are at play, and he makes the acquaintance of William Eden (Benno Furmann), a sin eater who has according to him been practicing his craft for centuries. Eden tempts Alex with his heart’s desire if he’s willing to play his game in order to get answers. Alex feels he can get his heart’s desire without accepting Eden’s invitation, but he’ll have to be willing to leave the priesthood in order to achieve it.
Heavy on the CGI wizardry but bereft of much involving interaction between real live people, Helgeland’s script has his characters making life-altering decisions without a moment’s hesitation and features dialogue that’s pretty empty and insulting to the intelligence of the audience. Though he attempts to dredge up some mystery in his scenario (who is this “Dark Pope” who’s functioning as an evil puppetmaster), only the most innocent won’t be able to figure it out almost instantly. A couple of threatening action scenes are staged, but they both land with a thud lacking any suspense, and while there are touches of The Exorcist, The Omen, and other horror films with a religious structure to them, the story behind The Order is forgotten almost the moment the final credits begin rolling: there simply isn’t anything memorable about it.
Though the script really lets him down, Heath Ledger attempts to fashion a character out of the jagged bits and pieces provided in Helgeland’s muddled screenplay. Better writing would likely have resulted in a more finished characterization. The script, however, does offer an appealing villain in William Eden, topped off by Benno Furmann’s alluring and captivatingly precise performance. Shannyn Sossamon seems vague and disjointed as the rejected and now accepted Mara while Mark Addy’s worldly Father Thomas is a puzzle, a priest advising another priest to commit sins of the flesh without the slightest hesitation or soul-searching. Peter Weller has some candid moments as the firm-minded bishop, but his role, too, is tangled and unsatisfying.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. On the whole, the image looks very sharp and clear with only an occasional scene that seems soft and undefined. Color saturation is nicely realized and flesh tones are quite accurate. Black levels are deep and impressive. The film has been divided into 28 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix has some surprising depth to it. David Torn’s unsettling music gets an excellent spread throughout the soundfield, and ambient noises occasionally surprise from the various channels. There are a few impressive pans across the soundstage, too, though some other possibilities for more have not been exploited. The LFE channel gets some good opportunities, but it, too, isn’t worked as thoroughly as some of the sequences might have allowed it to be.
The audio commentary is provided by the producer-writer-director Brian Helgeland. Though he spends way too much time describing what we’re seeing on the screen (he even reads some of the names off the credits), there are a few pearls of information that get dropped along the way. One can also sense his deep sense of disappointment over the film’s complete failure at the box-office.
All of the bonuses are presented in 480i.
There are seven deleted/expanded scenes which may be watched individually or in one 19 ½-minute collection. They may also be viewed with or without director commentary who explains why the scenes were inevitably dropped. Along with these scenes are some dailies from one of the movie’s more emotional scenes (to say more would spoil a climactic moment in the film).
The film‘s theatrical trailer in 4:3 runs 2 minutes.
2/5 (not an average)
As if the Catholic Church doesn’t already have enough problems to contend with, it also gets a serious black eye from the actions of the priests in The Order. This is a not very successful religio-horror film that wastes a talented cast on a story that has not been well thought out. The picture and sound on the Blu-ray release are the only virtues of this most unfortunate package.