Actor Jeremy Sisto proved so monstrous as the wife-beating husband in 2007’s “Waitress” it takes a minute to accept him as a priest in the new indie drama “Into Temptation.”
The disparity between the characters quickly fades away.
Sisto, best known now as part of the “Law & Order” home team, delivers a beautiful turn as a devout priest in this honey of an indie.
Even a few final reel bumps can’t steer this complicated character study off course.
Sisto plays Father John Burlein, the head priest at a modest parish in Minneapolis. One day he listens to a short but haunting confession by a woman (Kristin Chenoweth) who slips in and out of his church.
She wants forgiveness for a future sin – she plans to kill herself soon.
“On my birthday,” she adds. “And I’m an Aries, father, so I don’t have a lot of time.”
With that she flees the confessional booth, leaving Father John gobsmacked.
He wants to find her but has precious little to go on besides the sound of her voice and a fleeting image of her decolletage. But he tries all the same, figuring she’s a working girl by the little he saw of her.
So he starts visiting the city’s seamy side, hoping to pick up some clues as to who the mystery woman is before she goes through with her plans.
“Into Temptation” initially feels like a trap, a story built around a priest bound to fall from grace. Hard.
But writer/director Patrick Coyle isn’t interested in such an obvious tale. He offers a more compelling arc for John, one in which temptation and his fatherly duties intertwine in ways that keep him – and the audience – off balance.
Sisto brings a real sense of perspective to John, the ability to juggle the strains of celibacy while sin swirls all around him.
Chenoweth carves out her character’s damaged past with only a few, pivotal sequences.
She rarely speaks, but does let loose with a powerful monologue late in the film that amplifies the sense that her healing process has begun.
Lending a welcome dose of humor and earthliness is “The Office’s” Brian Baumgartner as a fellow priest who John relies on for counsel.
Coyle loses his grip on the narrative in the movie’s waning moments, as secondary characters act more like plot devices than flesh and blood creations.
“Into Temptation” isn’t just a meticulously told story with dignity, it’s the rare independent film which dares to respect religion and people of faith.
(Photo: Jeremy Sisto plays a conflicted priest in the sturdy new drama “Into Temptation.”)