The Last Sin Eater



The Bigger Picture

NEW YORK -- The latest effort to be marketed by 20th Century Fox's faith-oriented division, "The Last Sin Eater" squanders its good intentions with its numbingly bloated 140-minute running time. Adapted from the novel by Francine Rivers, this religious-themed drama set in the 1850s is unlikely to make any new converts despite its ultimately positive message.

The film's central character is 10-year-old Cadi (Liana Liberato), who lives with her community of Welsh immigrants in the Appalachian Mountains. The girl is distraught over her part in the accidental death of her younger sister, and becomes obsessed with a local custom involving the use of a "Sin Eater" (Peter Wingfield) to absolve the recently departed of their transgressions. She decides to attempt to find this mysterious figure, who is otherwise shunned by the community when his services are not needed, and see if he can help her while she's still alive.

Other characters who figure prominently in the story include Cadi's kindly grandmother (Oscar winner Louise Fletcher) and a traveling preacher (Henry Thomas) who advises Cadi that the way to salvation is not through sin eating but rather Jesus Christ.

The film, directed and co-scripted by Michael Landon Jr. -- he's got some personal experience with this sort of stuff, considering his dad's "Highway to Heaven" -- is well executed, with particularly handsome cinematography of the Utah locations that double for Appalachia. And the actors bring an undeniable conviction to their performances, even if the casting of the better known among them is a bit distracting at times. But the sluggish pacing and often hard-to-decipher narrative represent cinematic sins that can't easily be eaten away.