Shaikh Ayaz reviews Priest. Post YOUR reviews here!
Let's first get a misconception out of its way. Scott Stewart's Priest, his second collaboration with actor Paul Bettany, is not a subject of vampires alone.
The tattoo on Bettany's forehead carries the film's message with it and it's clear like Waikoropupu water: the world of the warrior Priest (Bettany) is theocratic (albeit dystopian) and is every bit divorced from ours.
Conceptually, there are a few things going on here, in that there is adventure, sci-fi elements, supernatural, special effects, and a nod to the Westerns of John Ford, Howard Hawks and Sergio Leone and their American Indian adversaries.
In bits and pieces, Priest evokes déjà-vu in the sense how much it owes to movies ranging from Blade Runner to Rambo: First Blood, especially about dealing with questions of self-doubt and the loss of a sense of community.
The movie is set on a huge landscape, allowing it the space that epics usually operate upon and has as its point of reference, a popular Korean comic. Okay, so far, so good, one would presume. With so much going right in terms of the ingredients one least expects things to go wrong. For some reason, they do.
There, in a distant, war-ravaged land that bears all the traits of an acute Orwellian condition, a vamp vet Priest (Bettany, only referred to as that throughout) is called upon to rescue from the clutches of the vampires a teenager (Lily Collins) who turns out to be his niece. If you take that story at its face value, it would be an easy guess to point towards Ford's The Searchers, in which John Wayne (portrayed as a war veteran) ferociously goes in search of his niece until that storybook-like door shuts on him.
This is something that Bettany himself confirmed, in a pre-release interview. He admitted being an admirer of Wayne and that he did treat his character like him, if not modelled it entirely on him.
To be fair to Bettany, who's seriously in danger of being typecast in the consecrated genre of Church-propaganda movies (The Da Vinci Code and if you want to count his role as an Archangel in Legion), is quite a presence here. Unfortunately, if he thinks it's going to be a role-of-a-lifetime, he's mistaken. He's handicapped purely because films like Priest are never about acting. It's a landscape flick, which emphasises more on locales, special effects and visuals than anything else. In that department, it notches high points. Director Stewart uses his locations like a whiz.
Unconsciously adventurous and strikingly-shot with an impressive music score, where Stewart gets wrong is letting its script dip in too many genres, straddling from one element to another whereupon what he serves in the end is a confused conundrum.
Maybe it's time to open that storybook-like door of The Searchers again.