This is a very well acted, drama with Isaiah Washington (Dr. Preston Burke in Grey’s Anatomy) as a catholic priest Father Andre James, who has come to a new school with some hidden secrets.
It turns out his predecessor has gone missing without any explanation for quite some time, hence the principal of the school Father William Jennings played by the gravely voiced Robert Loggia (Funny Money) has asked his old friend, Father Andre James to step in and fulfil the previous priest’s duties. Father James on the other hand has to impress the priests already there, notably Father Thomas Peters played by the stalwart Bob Gunton (Warden Norden in the Shawshank Redemption), and Father Alfred McKavee played by John Billingsley (Dr. Phlox in Star Trek: Enterprise).
There are the usual antics going on in an all male boarding school, or indeed any school for that matter, bullying, disrespect for their teachers, and looking at indecent magazines. Father James has to run the gauntlet of impressing not just the boys in the school but also his fellow clergymen, and in the midst of this tries to reach out to help one particular boy Parker Remy, played by Jordan Garrett who is a little cut-off from the rest of the boys, and is on medication. Father James would like to know the issues behind this, and would like to help the boy in any way he can. There is a lovely scene where the new priest tries to gain come camaraderie with Parker and the boys in general, he sits at Parker’s table during lunch, and asks if the food is any good, Parker replies that it is not, Father James then says food this bad is only good for one thing, and soon afterwards a food fight erupts, with Father James in the midst of it, much to his embarrassment when the other priests walk in on the scene.
There is also a scene that elaborates the problems the boys are going through, with Father James joining in a basketball match where Jason Boyd (played by Andrew Lawrence), the local bully is leading the team, in their jostle for the ball Father James is knocked down, whereupon Jason says they are all fighting to get into the same schools, and to get the same grades, and if anyone is in their way, they get pushed aside.
Isaiah Washington’s performance is mesmerising, and he goes deep into the character, blending effortlessly with the prayer rituals, and trying to help the boys at the school, and at the same time trying to defend his actions in front of his superiors and fellow priests.
There is a particularly poignant scene where Father James stays in the room of Parker after Parker asks him to; on account of being scared, on leaving the room the next morning, he is spotted by Father Peters, and brought in front of the Principal, where he is made aware that such actions could be deemed reckless if the press ever got hold of it, and its implied connotations could easily ruin a lifetime’s work.
This is one of the first movie of its kind that deals with the difficult and painful subjects of abuse from the point of view of the priests, it is handled respectfully all through.