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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Order
The Order
Fox // R // December 30, 2003
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 11, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

A troubled production whose release date was shifted a few times (as well as its title - it was originally called "Sin Eater", which it apparently still was called in other places around the world), "The Order" was reportedly delayed due to the fact that the film's visual effects were in need of reworking. Unfortunately, the final film seems to be in need of other touch-ups; not screened for critics, the film has other issues besides unconvincing effects.

The latest effort from writer/director Brian Helgeland ("Knight's Tale", writer on "LA Confidential" and Eastwood's recent "Mystic River"), "The Order" stars the three leads of his last picture, "Knight's Tale" - Mark Addy, Heath Ledger and Shannon Sossamon. While it may have been quite convienient to simply carry over the actors, they don't make the best choices for these characters.

Ledger plays Alex, a young priest who was educated in Rome, but now ministers in NYC. Early in the film, he finds that his mentor, Dominic (Francesco Carnelutti), has committed suicide - or has he? He sets off with fellow priest Thomas (Mark Addy) and Mara (Shannyn Sossamon) - she tried to kill him years ago and has just escaped from a mental institution. But she really likes him and wants to tag along. No surprise - he eventually starts falling for her.

Once they get to Rome, there's some business about tracking down a Sin Eater (Benno F├╝rmann), whose task it is to absorb the sins of the dying. Apparently, the Sin Eater - who's gotten rich and has lived for centuries doing what he does - wants Alex to take over the job, but the Church isn't exactly keen on the idea.

Although there may be a story buried in here somewhere, the film is nonsense - plot holes and all - played with complete and utter seriousness, aside from a few moments of comic relief (both intentional and unintentional). There's a scene in a graveyard with creepy demon spawn appearing as creepy children. When Alex tells them to "go back to hell!" they burst into bad CGI birds. Upon questioning regarding the events, Alex says, "Demon spawn disguised as children. Nothing I couldn't handle." Well, alrighty then. A few scenes later, the characters walk through what seems to be a Roman church turned into a techno club. We get lines like, ''Sometimes, when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into you.'' and "The terrible thing about the truth is that sometimes you find it - not to mention it makes you very unwelcome at parties."

The performances don't help matters. Ledger, who seemed like he was having fun in "Knight's Tale", mopes about here, mumbling his lines at a low enough volume to require most to lean forward. Sossamon's wooden performance continues her ability to play characters from different time periods or backgrounds while not changing her look even slightly. Addy does a fine job at being the only character who doesn't look glum for the whole 2 hours.

There were a few things I liked about "The Order", though. The Rome settings are simply beautiful, captured hauntingly (although sometimes the whole "dark and shadowy" thing is taken a little too far) by cinematographer Nicola Pecorini ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"). The score by David Torn and Matt Dunkley certainly was also an element in the film's favor - the interesting, offbeat orchestrations and textures in the music seemed to be for a better film.

As bad as "The Order" often is, I couldn't help but think that it had potential to be better. The screenplay needed another draft, to clarify some of the plot points and make some of the story twists more convincing. The film needed editing, to try and push the pace a little more, as the final film moves at an almost glacial pace at times. The effects, which were reportedly the reason behind the film's delay, are still bad. Finally, Ledger and Sossamon should have been replaced, as neither are right for their roles.

But, that's what could have been. "The Order" that is is a consistently mediocre, dull offering. Writer/director Helgeland has shown he's capable of much better.


The DVD

VIDEO: Fox presents "The Order" in both 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame. The anamorphic widescreen presentation gets a dual-layer side of the dual-sided disc, while the full-frame presentation gets the single-layer reverse side. The anamorphic widescreen presentation handles the difficult material only adequately. Sharpness and detail are impressive at times, yet some of the dimly-lit, shadowy scenes appeared soft.

Other issues became noticable at times, as well. Edge enhancement was clearly visible during the outdoor scenes during the daytime. Some darker scenes also showed minor compression artifacts. On a positive note, the print used looked crisp and clear, with no concerns. The film's subdued color palette appeared accurately rendered.

SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation was a moderately enjoyable affair, but it could have gone a lot further to create atmosphere and chills. A handful of scenes use the surrounds to good effect to reinforce the score and present various sounds. However, there could certainly have been more in the way of subtle ambience to heighten the mood. Dialogue, score and effects seemed clear and well-recorded.

EXTRAS: A commentary from writer/director Brian Helgeland provides some insight into casting choices, story concepts and development and shooting on location in Rome. However, Helgeland's comments also occasionally fall back into narrating the story at hand. 8 deleted scenes (w/optional commentary), some dailies footage and a trailer round out the package.

Final Thoughts: "The Order" is a mess - although there's a few decent moments, the film really can't overcome casting and script issues. Fox's DVD provides fairly good audio/video quality and a few supplements, but I still can't recommend the film.

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