Out of all the actors attempting to become action stars on a regular basis, Paul Bettany is the least likely candidate. A seasoned dramatic actor notable for roles in films that earn awards, Bettany recently starred in Legion. In a bit of a head-scratching role as an Angel defending the last vestiges of humanity from extinction by the Almighty himself, Bettany apparently tried his hand at action films and seemed to like it. Legion was a wannabe clone of The Terminator, with overt religious overtones instead of covert ones, that disappeared quickly from theatres. He could’ve mailed it in, using it to do the independent films and dramas he staked his name on, but something funny happened.
He seemed to think he was back on the stage doing Shakespeare and performed accordingly.
It was a bad film and yet Bettany brought the same level of professional performance that he did in Master & Commander: Far Side of the World, amongst others. You have to admire him for it. He has no level of mailing it in, no matter how bad the material is, and Priest is more of the same as Legion: a religious themed action film that aims low and winds up falling short of even that. This one just borrows nearly every cliché from buddy cop films and the Western genre, however, as opposed to just aping a James Cameron film.
A man with no name, only referred to as Priest (Bettany), is a former warrior in a world that has run out of wars to fight. With the Church having defeated the vampire population thoroughly, Priest is part of a warrior group bred to wipe out the vampires that have been in near constant war with humanity. With the war over, and their unit disbanded, he’s now working a meaningless job while being a warrior without a war to fight. When vampires nearly kill his brother (Stephen Moyer) and kidnap his niece (Lily Collins), Priest is called back into duty (against the church’s wish) by a local sheriff (Cam Gigandet). Black Hat (Karl Urban) is leading the vampires in a rekindling of the old war. Only Priest can stop him and, by proxy, his vampire army. And you want him to finish the vampire army off as soon as possible, if only to stop the pain as quickly as one can.
This is such a bad film but Bettany doesn’t seem to know it. The rest of the cast is in “mail it in mode,” just going through the motions well enough as to not be totally embarrassing, and Bettany is completely on the opposite page. He is eating so much scenery that part of the church in a pivotal scene towards the end is probably lodged somewhere in his small intestine. It’s rather remarkable just how good he is, especially for a genre film, as Bettany is going all out to make this warrior priest an interesting and engaging character. You wouldn’t expect it, seeing the film’s general lack of any sort of redeeming qualities and originality as Bettany is doing his best to carry this film on his back. It’s almost embarrassing to see him try so hard, to take a character who was cribbed heavily from Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” but with none of the depth. Bettany gives him vitality and sympathetic qualities. The rest of the film just borrows so heavily from other things that you wonder if even the names are original.
That’s a huge problem with this film, which takes heavily from westerns and buddy cop films for major plot points and stylistic choices. This is a post apocalyptic film that views the world as the Old West, but with better tools (i.e. motorcycles instead of horses), and Priest has the same exact character arc as any cop trying to do the right thing despite his lieutenant telling him he’s off the case. It’s almost an assault on the senses, as if Scott Stewart is intentionally trying to see just how many clichés and plot points of other genres into one film without actually having to do something original or at least slightly different. It doesn’t help that the lack of originality is coupled with an aggressively awful script, infecting the clichés and plot points so bad that the film is unintentional comedy at its finest.
Bettany’s rather solid performance seems to be a gift of CGI, taken from a better film and inserted into it instead of some other horrible performance from an actor of the exact same physical stature as Bettany. It’s almost inexplicable that he could be so good, relatively speaking, in a film that just is so actively bad on so many levels.
In a year where comic book films are in a holding pattern, establishing paths for The Avengers or biding time until The Dark Knight Rises, Priest is one to avoid with better comic books films on the horizon.
Director: Scott Stewart Notable Cast: Paul Bettany, Maggie Q, Cam Gigandet, Stephen Moyer, Christopher Plummer, Karl Urban, Lily Collins Writer(s): Cory Goodman based off the comic “Priest” by Min-Woo Hyung
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.