Tight writing, no-nonsense direction and pro leads headed by Christian Slater and Molly Parker make the best of "The Good Shepherd," a priest- turned-detective drama dourly lensed in Canada. South of the 49th Parallel, this is solid tube fodder, with some theatrical chances in less-developed territories.

Tight writing, no-nonsense direction and pro leads headed by Christian Slater and Molly Parker make the best of “The Good Shepherd,” a priest- turned-detective drama dourly lensed in Canada. South of the 49th Parallel, this is solid tube fodder, with some theatrical chances in less-developed territories.

The kind of hip, modern padre who tells his holy superiors, “I’ll have the PR office put together a statement,” Daniel Clemens (Slater) is assigned to the case of Tom Andrews (Von Flores), a young priest in tough neighborhood who was found crouching over the body of a social worker whose head had been bashed in. Andrews will only say that he may know who the killer was, but he’s bound to silence by the seal of confession.

Clemens decides to put Andrews on TV to state his case, and makes a deal with a former g.f., tube reporter Madeline Finney (Parker), to interview him. But the case starts looking messy for the church when Finney discovers the dead man used to be a male prostitute and Clemens finds that Andrews counseled at a gay religious org.

After Andrews is found hanged in prison, Clemens sympathies start to shift toward believing in his innocence. This puts Clemens in conflict with his superiors, led by the oily Cardinal Ledesma (Gordon Pinsent), who just want the whole case buried, with no stain on the church.

This first half hour is a model of swift exposition, nudged along by Gary Koftinoff’s plentiful, if generic, scoring and given flavor by a seasoned cast, including Stephen Rea as an old friend of Clemens. Second act shows the slick Clemens challenged over his expedient, utilitarian attitude toward the church — he’s more comfy with corporate fund-raising than actual preaching — when he asks to take over Andrews’ church till a replacement can be found. As he and Finney undercover more dark deeds, pic turns into a conventional crimer capped by a weak ending.

Slater and Parker make a sharp pair of leads, each handling their dialogue with crisp efficiency, while Pinsent is solid as the finagling cardinal. Wintry exteriors in Hamilton, Canada, suitably parallel the murky world of local Roman Catholic politicking, and tech package in general is pro for this second feature by former a.d. Lewin Webb (“The Limit”).

The Good Shepherd

Canada

Production

An Alliance Atlantis release of a GFT Entertainment production. (International sales: Peace Arch Films, London) Produced by Gary Howson. Executive producers, John Flock, Christopher Lambert. Co-producer, Lewin Webb. Directed by Lewin Webb. Screenplay, Brad Mirman.

Crew

Camera (color), Curtis J. Petersen; editor, Nick Rotundo; music, Gary Koftinoff; art director, Evan Webber; costume designer, Diana Irwin; associate producer, Paul Jennison; sound (Dolby Digital), Steve Marian. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Panorama Canada), Aug. 28, 2004. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Christian Slater, Molly Parker, Gordon Pinsent, Stephen Rea, Nancy Beatty, Von Flores, Daniel Kash, Shawn Lawrence, Jordan Hughes, Alex Paxton-Beesley, Roman Podhora, Colin Glazer, Joan Gregson.

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