This review originally appeared on KTKA and KSNT, Kansas First News.
Here is a look at two movies new out on DVD and Blu-ray. Is it possible that two movies with similar titles could be any farther apart thematically than these two?
“Priest,” starring Paul Bettany as a vampire hunter in an apocalyptic CGI-ed future, is a sci-fi/horror/western/fantasy/action movie. The problem is it does none of these genres particularly well. In this world, priests have crosses tattooed on their forehead and are elite vampire killers.
Using this setup, priest Bettany tries to save a young girl who has been kidnapped by these vampires—which look like eyeless rejects from Will Smith’s “I Am Legend.” 90 minutes of inconsequential action and cliché recycling comes next. It’s really painful to watch a semi-interesting setup get squandered right off the bat and become stuffed into a familiar-as-hell framework where nothing ever seems at stake. (No pun intended.)
“Léon Morin, Priest,” on the other hand, is a Criterion Collection transfer of a 1961 Jean-Pierre Melville film featuring film commentary, deleted scenes, and a TV interview with its director and star. The movie is about a communist woman in Nazi-occupied France (Emmanuelle Riva) who must question everything she knows when she meets a handsome young priest, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Belmondo is magnetic, hot off of his new-found international fame with “Breathless,” and his philosophical provocations are charged with the immediacy of a changed man still grappling with his conversion. Riva is superb as well, as her sexual frustration gets mixed up in ways that make these discussions even more difficult.
It’s slow, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and full of rich characters and interesting discussion with a strangely sexual subtext. In other words, it light years away from “Priest.”