A program can bring a weak story to the table and still be considered a classic if the actors tasked with bringing the characters to life hit a home run; a classic example is "Key Largo," which on paper is a rather weak story, but the merits of the phenomenal cast make it a tense and gripping film noir. "The Confession" is nearly one of these programs; originally conceived as mini-series consisting of ten five to six minute episodes, the program wisely makes its way on DVD as on continuous feature-length story. Like "Key Largo" it chooses to leave the dramatic weight on the shoulders of its dual leads, Kiefer Sutherland and John Hurt, but fails to realize that while "Key Largo" was a light story, it was a complete story. The same can't be said for "The Confession."
The premise is simple, an assassin (Sutherland) walks into a church to confess his sins to a priest (Hurt), the priest refuses to indulge what he believes to be the rantings of a madman until the assassin threatens the lives of the oblivious parishioners worshiping on the pews outside the confession booth walls. The big mystery of "The Confession" is why the assassin is confessing in the first place when its very clear he hasn't repented for his sins and will kill without provocation to prove the validity of his claims. Told mostly in real-time, "The Confession" pits two forces of nature against each other in a battle of words that both Sutherland and Hurt keep up until the credits roll and the mystery is solved. To call the one-on-one scenes intense is an understatement and it's a welcome sight to see Sutherland be an calm, icy menace as opposed to a shouting gun waving instrument of destruction as he's more recognized for, while Hurt is man of many layers, carefully revealing his own secrets to the audience for more than three-fourths of runtime.
However, "The Confession" cannot survive on the back-and-forth banter alone and through flashbacks the assassin reveals his misdeeds and various acts of compassion, but it's also here that the program begins to show its sizable cracks in overall narrative quality. The Sutherland of the confession booth fights for screen time with the gun waving, murdering Sutherland we all secretly want to see and the thinly veiled attempts at keeping the mystery of the confession alive are all for naught, as two possible solutions are telegraphed from minute one and yes, one of them is correct. Adding to problems are the bit players brought in for these flashbacks are the definition of one-dimensional and once the secret is revealed, a sizable chunk of "The Confession" becomes completely useless.
Adding to the weak back story, "The Confession" suffers from some very uninspired sound design; heart stopping standoffs that devolve into scuffles sound lifeless and worst of all, the suppressed pistol that Sutherland's character uses on several occasions emits a laser-like "pew pew" that was the go-to sound for silenced weapons in video games...15 years ago. I don't often find rip apart a program for having one specific weak production element if everything else is tip-top, but "The Confession" commits a few cinematic sins that are unforgivable. At the end of the day, the story wraps up where we want it to with Sutherland and Hurt giving it their all and while the end result is far less inspired than it could have been, it is satisfying and a slight level of uneasiness still manages to permeate the core of the program. "The Confession" reinvents nothing, fails outright in a few key areas, but thanks to two consummate professionals treating tired material with dignity and respect is incredibly memorable.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is near reference quality, sporting amazing detail. The only downside, and it's slight is grain/noise is inconsistent and contrast is less than natural, which is more noticeable as the dark confession booth is where the majority of the story unfolds. Colors are consistently cool, adding to the atmosphere of the production.
Sadly, the Dolby Digital English 2.0 audio track fails to come anywhere close to the technical excellence of the video. By and large, it's an ok track, but effects (read: gunshots) sound flat and voices have a hollow quality to them.
The extras include four "exclusive never-before-seen episodes" which are the cinematic equivalent of answers to rhetorical questions. They add nothing to the program, are presented non-anamorphically and look second-rate to the main production. A collection of 10 behind-the-scenes featurettes plays nicely a partially promotional in nature making-of special. Lastly, four interviews with principal cast and crew are included.
There's not debating that both Sutherland and Hurt are in top acting form in "The Confession." Both actors are given serviceable but uninspired material and elevate its appearance a full notch. At around an hour, the program wraps up before it has a chance to get stale, but at the expense of relying on a one-note gimmick that makes return visits highly questionable. Add to that stellar video but disappointing sound design and "The Confession" barely squeaks by with a thumbs-up for purchase (fans of Sutherland shouldn't pass this up though). Recommended.