Written and directed by Brian Helgeland in 2003, The Order stars Heath Ledger (who had worked with the writer/director previously on A Knight's Tale) as Alex Bernier who plays a young priest who is a member of the Carolingian sect, a sort of fringe division of Catholicism looked down upon by the powers that be in The Vatican for their rather extreme views. Bound and determined to gain knowledge whenever and wherever possible, the Carolingian's are, at least in this movie, also well trained in the art of dispatching demons and evil spirits from this earthly plane. They're a fair bit tougher than your average Catholic priest, and far less predictable.
At any rate, Alex is off to Rome after his friend and fellow priest Father Dominic (Francesco Carnelutti) is found dead. He's intent on finding out the truth behind Dominic's unusual death and along for the ride is Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), a slightly off kilter artsy type who carries a torch for Alex and who has a very strange past with our young priest. Another friend of Alex's, Thomas (Mark Addy) is tagging along too. The trio starts with a meeting with Cardinal Driscoll (Peter Weller) that sends them on a chase through an underground tunnel where an encounter with a strange masked person lets them in on the existence of a 'sin eater' named William Eden (Benno Furman who may hold the truth behind the passing of Father Dominic.
The Order is a huge missed opportunity. The film deals in some fascinating concepts and themes and does feature a very capable cast but winds up shooting its load into a mess of a script and winds up a confusing mess of a film. The script doesn't ever properly fill in the background between Alex and Mara. We know they lust after one another. This despite Alex's priestly vow of celibacy, but what of their vague past? The movie makes mention of an exorcism which involved Mara's shooting the poor priest, but why? Why isn't his ever fleshed out properly? This results in a relationship that should form the backbone of the film and instead only serves as fodder for confusion.
The concept of the sin eater - a person who absolves a dying Catholic of all their wrongdoings before they pass - is an interesting one which has roots in the religion's long and frequently bizarre history but it isn't ever quite developed as well as it needs to be to work here. In fact, that same critique applies to pretty much every aspect of this picture. There are quite a few great ideas here and the film is full of moments that should have resulted in an impressive film but the whole picture is so sporadic and erratic in its structure that it feels unfinished. The movie is vague to a fault and while the horror and suspense elements that the film tries to play up obviously require that not everything be spelled out for us, here it seems like Helgeland simply throw a bunch of references to more archaic aspects of Catholicism into the story simply to have them there and not because the movie would necessarily be better for it.
Like most horror films that deal with Catholic priests, The Order's good father has got issues of his own and can't quite seem to get his fingers around his own faith. Alex is portrayed as conflicted about his calling and his acceptance of what he was taught during his time in seminary, which is understandable when you consider the weight that this involves. This doesn't really make his character any more complex or interesting, though it does at least try to humanize him to an extent. It's not enough, however. The film doesn't really seem to know where it wants to go. Is it a horror picture? Maybe. It certainly starts off that way, but then it decides it wants to play 'whodunnit' before taking us through locations that wouldn't feel out of place in an adventure or action film. It winds up heading back into supernatural territory before it drags itself to its conclusion but by the time get there the erratic pacing and unnecessary script shifts have ruined whatever legitimate tension Helgeland actually succeeds in building (and there are moments where parts, though never the whole of, the picture work well). Ledger does what he can with the material but he can't save it. His performance is fine, but his character is shallow. Supporting performances suffer from the same problem, we just don't get to know these people well enough to care about them and, as such, why should we care about the film?
The Order arrives on Blu-ray in a fine 1.85.1 AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer that boasts nice detail and strong color reproduction when the film allows for it. Much of the movie takes place inside some rather dim interiors and so you're only going to get so much out of the image. There are scenes that look really good, and facial close ups show nice detail and texture, though spots throughout the picture show only mediocre shadow detail and things can get a bit murky and overly dark at times. There aren't any obvious problems with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction and only occasional specks are visible as far as print damage goes. Overall this is a decent representation of some very dark, gloomy, murky looking source material. You won't get the overall pop that a lot of Blu-rays discs offer, but you will certainly notice an increase in quality over the standard definition release from a few years back.
An English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track sounds fine, showing off some nice directional effects here and there and benefiting from strong, tight bass response. Dialogue is always easy to understand and follow and the score is mixed in quite nicely. This isn't all that engrossing or enveloping a mix and it is often fairly front heavy but there aren't any real problems with it per se, it just doesn't really ever manage to light anything on fire. There are some scenes here that do have some nice surround activity and the uncompressed track handles them well, but the film is still boring in spots and this mix reflects that. Alternate audio options are available in French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround with subtitles provided in Spanish only.
The only extra of any substance on this disc is an audio commentary from director Brian Helgeland, who doesn't really seem all that enthused with this picture. He covers most of the standard bases you'd expect - working with Ledger, script revisions, effects work and locations - but his delivery is dry and uninspired which makes it a pretty dull track to listen to. He also spends a fair bit of time simply relaying what he's seeing on the screen in front of him, which as most commentary fans know, can spell sudden death.
Rounding out the extra features on this disc are a handful of deleted scenes which don't really add very much to the storyline, a trailer for the feature, some static menus and chapter stops. All of the extras on this disc are in standard definition.
The Order really isn't all that impressive a film. MGM's Blu-ray looks pretty good and sounds half way decent and does carry over the extras from the previous standard definition release, so if you're a fan of the film, you'll definitely get an upgrade here, but the picture itself is slow and periodically boring. Ledger's not bad in the lead role and Peter Weller is always fun, but this one just never comes together. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.