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Not So True Confessions

The didactic Priest is an overheated but honorable melodrama

Better still is the cast. As the tortured Father Greg, Roache makes an ideological straw man into something approaching a three-dimensional character, using his wary eyes, soft voice and thin, pale face to communicate shifts in emotion that a lesser actor might have overplayed. Wilkinson manages to find the heartache and humor in Father Matthew's self-righteousness, painting a convincing portrait of a man who's aware of the worst life can offer yet refuses to let this knowledge paralyze him. And the supporting cast is terrific, too, from the smarmiest church-empowered bureaucrats down through the most disloyal and faithless parishioners.

Ultimately, the film seems less a deliberately provocative satire in the spirit of Jonathan Swift, Kurt Vonnegut and Ken Kesey than an imprecise attempt to address real-world problems through the prism of aggressively sentimental melodrama. (Although an image of an emotionally overwhelmed Father Greg going down on his boyfriend in a parked car was probably too aggressive.) Even when the picture stumbles -- and it stumbles so frequently and obviously that you can practically hear the filmmakers knocking things over -- it's hard not to admire its fearlessness. Courage is a rare sight in movies these days, and Priest has plenty, even if it has absolutely no clue what to do with it.

Priest.
Directed by Antonia Bird.
With Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson and Cathy Tyson. Rated R.
97 minutes.

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