Urban Cinefile
"I'd go into my trailer and concentrate on John Coffey - and when I came out, I was John Coffey "  -Michael Clarke Duncan on his role in The Green Mile
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Sunday July 12, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Catholic priest Father Alex (Heath Ledger) belongs to the secret order of Carolingians - a near-extinct group dedicated to the extermination of evil. Following the death of mentor Father Dominic (Francesco Carnelutti), Alex leaves New York for Rome to investigate. Accompanied by troubled artist Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), with whom he shares a troubled past, Alex reunites with his best friend and fellow Carolingian, Father Thomas (Mark Addy). The trio soon discover that the death of Father Dominic was the work of The Sin Eater (Benno Fürmann), an immortal who assumes the sins of the deceased. As Alex's relationship with Mara intensifies, he and Thomas move closer to the truth behind The Sin Eater.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
The director and stars who brought us the ridiculous but entertaining A Knight's Tale have reunited for the simply ridiculous The Sin Eater. This non-scary piece of religious mumbo-jumbo is destined for a brief run in cinemas before disappearing to DVD shelves alongside countless other Exorcist wannabes. Things don't start well as the voice of Father Alex (Heath Ledger) solemnly informs us that "every life is a riddle - the answer to mine is a knowledge born of darkness". 

Unfortunately, this Catholic evil-buster's descent into darkness beneath the streets of Rome fails to generate any suspense from a premise that promises so much. The idea of the last surviving members of a secret church society hunting down an unauthorised agent who absorbs the sins of those who are about to die is a juicy one but in Helgeland's shaky writing and directorial hands it doesn't convince for a minute. A large part of the problem is the casting of Heath Ledger and rising German star Benno Fürmann as the duelling protagonists. Sporting almost identical "groovy young man" facial hair stylings, these performers seem way too young for their roles and the dialogue they mumble almost incoherently is mind-numbingly awful at times. "I am the conductor of the midnight train" is just one of the Sin Eater's dialogue clunkers in a screenplay that makes the death metal rants of Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath seem profound by comparison. 

One can't help but wonder how effective the tale might have been with an intelligent script and lead actors who don't look like they've just finished high school. As we expect in any movie revolving around a handsome Catholic priest, there's a foxy babe on the sidelines just waiting to lead him into a crisis of faith. In this case it's Ledger's A Knight's Tale co-star Shannyn Sossamon as the disturbed Mara. She's had the hots for the hunky man of the cloth ever since he...wait for it...performed an exorcism on her. 

Never mind that she tried to kill him and has just escaped from a psychiatric institution - love means never having to say you're sorry about attempted homicide here. With Peter Weller also poncing about as a wicked Cardinal out to snatch the Papacy by whatever devious means it takes, The Sin Eater seals its doom by taking itself far too seriously and failing to deliver the substance or cohesion to make good on the promise. Even when it tries to inject a little humour it falls flat, with Mark Addy's boisterous Father Thomas coming across like an excommunicated member of the Holy Order of Comic Relief. Long-winded discussions between Ledger's confused cleric and Fürmann's immortal veer between dull and pretentious and the ending ranks as one of the most ludicrous and incompetently handled "double-whammys" I've seen in a long time. The worst sin movie goers can commit is parting with hard-earned cash to witness this barrage of biblical baloney.

Review by Louise Keller:
Trite, contrived and unbelievable, there’s little absolution for writer / director / producer Brian Helgeland, despite a few chilling moments and an equally chilling concept. It feels like an error of judgement by Helgeland, whose memorable LA Confidential won him an Oscar in 1997. For me, David Tom’s innovative and sumptuous score is the best thing about the film, with its choral and richly complex, textured passages that effect mood effortlessly. Everything else seems like a bit of an effort; the characters never ring true, and Heath Ledger’s mannered performance is often mumbled and self-conscious. 

‘The terrible thing about the truth is that sometimes you find it,’ says The Sin Eater, and while it feels as though Helgeland tries hard to inject profundities into the script, with quotes from Keats - ‘beauty is truth; truth is beauty’, the script is stilted and never works. There’s a feeble and unsuccessful attempt at humour as Mark Addy’s character mutters ‘They said there was no point at hanging around’ when his hands are crucified (there’s also comically intended confusion between ‘exorcism’ and ‘exercise class’), and the climactic scenes are cinematically styled manufactured melodrama. 

So much talent wasted, although Peter Weller does a fine job, making his Cardinal Driscoll a most disturbing and austere figure. The very beautiful Shannyn Sossamon (who collaborated with Ledger and Helgeland in A Knight’s Tale) makes the most of her undeveloped role as the troubled artist from a mental asylum: she is the girl who loves sunflowers and believes them to be God’s brilliant mistake. Sossamon and the sunflowers look lovely together, but pretty pictures are not enough. Great pains have been taken to set up the scenes with beautiful composition and lighting, but there’s little realism on display. 

There’s a potent scene between Ledger’s conflicted priest Alex and Benno Furmann’s William Eden (a commendable performance), in which they discuss the philosophies of what makes a man. (‘I sit, I fuck, I shave, I laugh, I cry, I once loved – does that make me a man?’ asks Eden) Just as Alex contemplates his status – whether he is a priest or a man - there is a hasty edit and we are suddenly in the middle of a love scene between Alex and Mara. There’s no sense of feeling his torment as Alex rejects the church for Mara, there’s no passion or connection – just beautiful cinematography, and a mechanically produced candlelit love scene serenaded by soaring music. The special effects are nicely conceived however, and the scene when Alex witnesses what The Sin Eater does for the first time, is the film’s most striking. 

The Sin Eater is disappointing on all counts and while the closing title credits lyrics may be ‘In search of the keys to the kingdom of heaven’, it is plain that neither the keys, nor heaven are ever found. Needs lots of mea culpa.

Email this article

Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 0

(US) aka The Order

CAST: Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Benno Furman, Mark Addy, Peter Weller, Francesco Carnelutti

PRODUCER: Craig Baumgarten, Brian Helgeland

DIRECTOR: Brian Helgeland

SCRIPT: Brian Helgeland


EDITOR: Kevin Stitt

MUSIC: David Tom

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Miljen Kreka Kljakovic

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 19, 2004

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: May 26, 2004

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020