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The Sin Eater

The sin eaterTalk about a troubled production...

This movie was originally due for release in January 2002 and was put back due to the CGI-effects being unintentionally funny. During the enforced hiatus, the movie had it's title changed to 'The Order' (as it is still known in the US) before reverting back to it's original moniker for it's UK debut a mere eighteen months late.

Heath Ledger stars as Alex Bernier, a priest who is a member of a special order known as the Carolinigans who are trained as exorcists to drive out demons and evil spirits. Seemingly ignored by the rest of the Catholic faith, their numbers have dwindled and when the head of the order dies in mysterious circumstances in Rome, Alex takes it upon himself to find out what really happened. Along the way he hooks up with the only other remaining member of the order (Mark Addy) and discovers that a 'Sin Eater', an ancient being who absolves humans of their sins prior to death, may have been responsible for his mentors passing. Together, the two remaining Carolinigans investigate the existence of this being, long thought to be extinct.

The trouble with 'Religious' thrillers is, as Hollywood history shows, they tend to be a very hit and miss affair. For every 'Omen' there's an 'Exorcist II' and, whilst not falling anywhere near as short as the latter, 'The Sin Eater, does appear to buckle under the weight of it's own pretensions. It's certainly an interesting premise that there is an individual who can absolve those who have done wrong, literally 'eat' their sins, to allow them to pass into heaven but once that premise is revealed, the movie does nothing with it. We're not told why the Sin Eater does this; for sure it gives him eternal life but he doesn't appear to be very happy in his work. Heath Ledger is a very fine actor and he tries his best to portray supposedly world-weary priest (world-weary?? at 24 years of age?) but the part would have been eminently more believable played by a more mature lead. Addy has very little to do but to act as a 'sounding board' for Ledger's innermost thoughts and Peter Weller even pops up, looking incredibly old, as a typically nefarious cardinal who is after The Pope's job (no, I'm not making this up).

And maybe that's the problem with religious thrillers in general. Priests are always portrayed as dark, mysterious figures who are usually holding a dark secret and, more often than not, tend to end up as the villain of the piece. In 'The Sin Eater', for example, the photography would imply that if you were to take a walk around Rome at any time of the day or night you would be forever bumping into shifty looking men of the cloth, all with their collars turned up, going about their own dark, private deeds.

The movie is by no means a disaster, but it does seem unsure as to what it wants to be. It's not scary enough to termed a 'horror', it's not fast paced enough to be called a 'thriller' and yet it has feet in both camps. It's just a shame that director/writer Brian Helgeland didn't have the courage to plump for one genre or the other.

Oh, one other thing. Those months spent on tarting up the CGI? Completely wasted - the effects still look ridiculous.


Sean G