The big twist/reveal at the end of this 16th century drama could have been a shocker, but the air was let out sometime before that by some weary storytelling. It didn't start out like that, though. In his first film since 2005's Lemming, director Dominik Moll set things up nicely in the very first scene: in a confession box that's bathe in shadow, Brother Ambrosio (Cassel) hears the confession of a man who is having incest with his niece. Sexual taboo and depravity are going to touch this pious man before the close.
mbrosio was an orphan who was left at the steps of a Capucin monastery outside Madrid some thirty years ago; growing up inside its high walls, Ambrosio's strong belief becomes near legend: "His faith is so alive it makes my heart dizzy," says Antonia (Japy) who, like many others, come to hear him speak. However, the reason Ambrosio's faith is so alive is because it has never been really tested and that all changes when a teenage boy, masked after his face is almost burned off in a fire that claimed his family, comes to join the monastery…
he Monk never gets out of second gear; always threatening to take off, Moll's steady pace ensures the film is never let off the reins. The plot machinations don't gel: Ambrosio's crippling headaches, his birthmark that some monks believe is the hand of the devil, the talk of possession in the nearby hamlet - Moll fails to pull all these elements from Mathew Lewis' novel and make them click. Ambrosio's fall slow from grace doesn't garner pity in the audience because the friar never feels like a real character. Moll injects some humanity – he takes pride in his rose garden – but Ambrosio doesn't come across as a person.
espite having a story and character that's difficult to connect with, The Monk remains watchable because of its beauty. Patrick Blossier's (Days Of Glory) cinematography lights up what is a dull story. The moody gothic interiors of the monastery perfectly contrast the sun-kissed desert outside, so bright you have to squint after spending so much time in the dark hallways. Cassel's measured performance is one of note but neither he nor Blossier can lift The Monk from the doldrums.
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