THE SIN EATER
The Sin Eater comes from Brian Helgeland who is better known as a screenwriter. Helgeland began writing genre movies such as A Nightmare on Elm Street Part IV: The Dream Master (1988), 976-Evil (1988) and Highway to Hell (1991) and then moved into the action and thriller genre with A-budget works such as Assassins (1995), Conspiracy Theory (1997), L.A. Confidential (1997), The Postman (1997), Blood Work (2002), Mystic River (2003), Man on Fire (2004), Cirque du Freak: The Vampires Assistant (2009), The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009), Green Zone (2010) and Robin Hood (2010). Helgeland made his directorial debut with the revenge thriller Payback (1999) and then went onto the modest hit of the Mediaeval film A Knights Tale (2001), which notedly also starred Heath Ledger, Mark Addy and Shannyn Sossamon,. The Sin Eater was Brian Helgelands third directorial outing. He went onto the subsequent true-life 42 (2013) about the first Black baseball player and Legend (2015) about the Kray Twins.
What one expected from the way that The Sin Eater is pitched was a variant on The Exorcist (1973). However, Brian Helgeland quickly surprises and dispenses with all post-Exorcist expectations and shock theatrics. Instead, he delves into a complex and highly original work about Catholic redemption and matters of theological gravity (the question of the churchs right to deem some sins unforgivable). Helgeland certainly gives the appearance of knowing his Jesuit basics and creates a fascinating and appealing mythology behind the Church secrecy. There are some fine scenes venturing down into the Vatican catacombs to meet with the secret society of Shiva who hide in red hooded robes and tell Heath Ledger that he must ask his questions of a dying man and then order him to turn around whereupon they hang a man in front of him so that he can ask his question in the mans dying breath; or with Mark Addy being tempted aside during the return journey by a sirens call from the catacombs. The film gains its feet when Benno Fërmann enters the scene as the title character. Fërmann gives a wonderfully smooth performance and Helgeland provides him with cool and subtly disquiet dialogue. There are some fascinating twists of plot the revelation of the identity of the Black Pope and their political machinations within the Vatican; the scenes with Benno Fërmann seducing Shannyn Sosammon to suicide in beautifully seductive tones. Not to mention a stinging and effective just desserts ending. The originality of the script is such that when Brian Helgeland does get to the various shocks the scenes where the sin is eaten and the dead erupt into silver tendrils of light, the ghost women causing Mark Addy to be impaled with flung bolts that it feels like the film is unnecessarily falling from an intellectual level to a hardly necessary visceral one.
Heath Ledger seems miscast in the role of the priest. At the time, Heath Ledger was still cast in pretty boy image and had yet to establish himself as a serious actor as he would a couple of years later with films like Brokeback Mountain (2005), Candy (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008). He seems there solely because the film needs a young handsome lead, not because he fits the part alas, The Sin Eater is not the type of film that requires a youthful good-looking star to carry it. On the other hand, Mark Addy has a wry and likeable presence and plays with a naturalism that draws the sympathy in the film to him whenever he is around.