Roberto Andò’s The Confessions aims to be an allegorical political thriller…
…but a lackadaisical pace and lack of precision in its execution make it neither effective thriller nor allegory. That being said, it’s not a bad film. It’s just not great.
The film takes place at a G8 meeting in Germany where top economic thinkers have converged to shift the direction of the global economy. In attendance are all of the requisite representatives from global power that you might expect, but in order to put on a good face for the public, other guests have been invited to represent more human interests. (Or something. The reason why is rushed through in the blink of an eye.) Among these are an Italian Monk, Father Roberto Salus (Toni Servillo) and children’s book writer Claire Seth (Connie Nielsen).
On the first night of the conference, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Daniel Roché (Daniel Auteuil) calls Father Roberto to his room to have confess. To what, we aren’t told right away, but we can guess it has something to do with his work and the conference. The next day, he is found dead with a bag over his head.
Immediately, Father Roberto is under suspicion, since 1) the bag over Roché’s head was used by Father Roberto to carry his audio recorder, and 2) the audio recorder might have recorded sensitive information. Of course, the death of the head of the IMF is less of a concern for the group of eight than the monk knowing sensitive details of a huge economic plan that, if leaked, would have global consequences. What’s more, the plan is quickly established as being nefarious and in the interest of the rich at the expense of the poor. From there, a web of political intrigue unravels as all parties are after Father Roberto to make sure the secret doesn’t leave the hotel.
Despite all the right pieces being present in The Confessions, they never fall in the exact right place long enough for the film to work as an effective thriller. It works better as viewed as a political allegory (Father Roberto being the eyes of God to steer the G8 towards the righteous path is inspired, if a bit heavy-handed), although the lack of precision in the execution muddles these aspects just as much.
The pace is oddly languid. There’s not much of a forward momentum to the plot. We see a lot of men in suits wringing hands over their sticky situation; a lot of conversations in board rooms; a lot of interviews with persons of interest. But, despite being told time and time again the danger the central characters in, we never really feel as though there’s anything at stake. We never feel that anyone’s life, let alone the entire world’s economy, is on the line.
The languid pace is most evident in the way the film doles out information. The pivotal conversation Father Roberto has with Roché at the beginning of the film is parsed out in flashbacks. But the flashbacks pop up with little rhyme or reason. They aren’t motivated by the current goings on of the plot, nor do they reveal much that changes the nature of the current action. We more or less understand from the get-go the nature of the conversation, and our notion doesn’t change.
Furthermore, the film aims to be an indictment of those who would seek to profit from economic crises, those who would exploit and exacerbate the plights of the poor. However, there’s a lack of specificity to the commentary. We understand that manipulation of global markets is bad, but then again, we already knew that, didn’t we? This is indicative of the film’s greatest problem: it’s not particularly revelatory. What it has to say has been a thousand times before and in a thousand more interesting ways.
But for all its defects in the thriller and allegorical departments, The Confessions is entertaining, and my feelings on it aren’t so negative as might be construed from my criticisms. It’s only because there’s so much potential packed into the premise. But what is lacking in depth is made up for in the sheer craftsmanship that went into the movie. The moment-to-moment writing is often excellent, and the international cast does stellar work. So if you’re just looking for a fun way to spend a couple hours, you probably won’t be disappointed. But with a premise so rich, the underdevelopment stings a little, especially at a time when political satire is so needed.
Still, despite its flaws, Roberto Andò’s The Confessions is an entertaining and, at times, even compelling thriller, even if its slightly muddled nature renders its political bite somewhat toothless.