The Sin Eater Review
A Knight’s Tale was a surprise success back in 2001, Director Brian Helgeland took a story of medieval jousting and combined it with modern pop music to produce a remarkably fun film, that became a huge hit. It seems it was as fun to make as it was to watch as for Helgeland’s next project he reunited with the main cast, though this time they have produced a very different kind of film.
Father Alex Bernier (Heath Ledger) is part of a dying breed, not simply because interest in the church is waning, but because he is part of a waning order of monks within the Catholic Church. The Carolingian were a clandestine order, trained to deal with religious oddities you won’t find mention of in the popular texts, if you need a spirit excised, a rouge demon sent back to hell or an angry spirit sated, then they are called upon. Bernier is summoned to Rome after the head of his order, long excommunicated, dies in curious circumstances. Trying to find out the exact circumstances – and reasons – behind the Father’s death will lead Alex to conclusions that are far fetched even for his order, that his death involved a sin eater. Not even claimed to be in existence for over 2000 years, the sin eater has the power to remove your sins – allowing you to enter heaven – taking the burden of them himself, and in exchange receiving near immortality in return.
The sin eater unburdens your soul when the church refuses, but rather than forgiving you for them the sin eater takes the burden of the sins on his own soul, giving you entry to heaven, and in return gaining near immortality himself. Naturally the church is keen to deny his existence, after all, if you could simply call the sin eater on your death bed, why would you need to attend church all your life? Which means Bernier will receive little help as he searches, and a cynical man may even feel as if the church were trying to block his efforts at every turn.
Rather than simply trying to repeat the winning formula of their last collaboration, Helgeland takes his cast in a totally different direction here. The religious ‘underworld’ is the perfect setting for a moody suspenseful thriller, with elaborate gothic sets and cloak and dagger rituals the norm for such a movie. For instance it isn’t hard to build an overbearing sense of dread when entering an underground church, surrounded by solemn faceless monks prepared for ritual sacrifice, and ancient scriptures are the perfect place to discover occult goings on that, naturally, the church would deny, protecting the public. There’s a lot of leeway in the setting, a lot of room to create a great story, which makes it rather beguiling that Helgeland has managed to produce such ridiculous drivel.
The film looks the part, with sets such as the lair of the ‘Dark Pope’ both elaborate and filled with foreboding gothic dread, and of course there is a fair amount of great Roman architecture on display, but that’s where the positives end. The storyline isn’t as far fetched as it may at first seem, the practice of sin eating is supposed to have existed, not simply concocted for the purposes of this script, thought the more supernatural elements of the practice – and the figures surrounding it – go much farther than obviously similar films such as The Exorcist or Stigmata. Sadly that doesn’t stop it from feeling utterly ridiculous, and the total lack of a voice of dissent amongst the characters. Our heroic monks have been raised as demon fighters, and so think nothing of charging headlong screaming down a dingy corridor damning demons back to hell, armed with nothing more than a crucifix. Never in their quest do they come across anyone that seems to think this behaviour is a little odd, which is exactly what the audience is thinking, giving us nobody to identify with within the cast. Far worse than that is the confusingly simple nature of Bernier’s quest, I’d have thought that locating a sin eater, even for those in the know about occult matters would be a little tricky, as the presence of one hasn’t been recognised in 2000 years, but it seems that isn’t the case, and it takes a good evening’s worth of investigation to locate him. Once that is out of the way you may wonder what direction the story can take, as it turns out to be far less than the supernatural detective story the early stages alluded to, but the film quickly slides even farther into predictable territory which will leave you either screaming at the screen at the abject stupidity Bernier is exhibiting or falling rapidly asleep.
It’s a real disappointment that Helgeland couldn’t manage to do more with a reasonable premise, it was encouraging that he decided to go in a different direction rather than simply hash out Another Knight’s Tale in order to reunite his cast, but it seems he overstretched both them and himself.
Unsurprisingly for a new release the picture quality is one area that The Sin Eater cannot be criticised on, with it displaying the expected solid colour reproduction, excellent detail levels and managing to never leave you searching the screen for the action during its frequent night scenes.
The Sin Eater comes equipped with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, but there is very little to choose between them. Matters aren’t helped by the soundtrack being surprisingly lack-lustre, without the rousing pop soundtrack of A Knights Tale, Helgeland seems to be having trouble filling his soundstage, so moments to show off your sound system are few and far between. I would say though that the DTS track does demonstrate deeper bass, a difference which is becoming all the rarer now half rate DTS tracks have become prevelant.
Commentary from director Brian Helgeland
Starting as he means to go on, Helgeland begins his commentary by reading the names of cast and crew as they appear on screen and giving you little or no information about them, and such banal comments soon become the staple of this tedious track. Whilst he seems happy to point out similarities to the groups previous collaboration A Knight’s Tale as if he specifically planned them – from places the characters meet to costume similarities – he has no idea why they exist. Phrases such as “…like in A Knight’s Tale….I don’t know what that means, but it’s something” will become familiar fast, that’s if you can manage to stay the distance – which for this film seems far more like a marathon than a sprint.
Deleted Scenes with optional commentary from Brian Helgeland
There are seven delete scenes on the disc, most of these come from the opening third of the film, and - as Helgeland explains in his commentary - were romoved for pacing reasons, as they are rather inconscequential scenes that only slowed down the arrival of the meat of the plot. One scene - an extended walk through Club Inferno - was removed because test audiences found the crowds watching something seemingly sinister in a pit rather offensive. Helgeland points out here if you freeze frame the scene, what was worrying the audience so much is actually 2 people sitting on a sofa.
The film is a disappointment, as Helgeland and the cast are capable of much better, both in individual projects and together, and Helgeland’s Oscar recognition for Mystic River this year, and previously for L.A. Confidential makes it obvious his adapted work is far superior to his own ideas. The disc falls far short of a special edition, with the features that are present being rather torturous, all of which makes this a disc to steer well clear of.
Note: This film is released as The Order in the U.S.A.
Last updated: 07/05/2018 15:26:43