Sex, sin, and Catholic guilt. If there’s a better recipe for cinematic troublemaking, I don’t want to know about it. “Into Temptation” dives into the deep end of collar-tightening, rosary-fingering unrest, creating a riveting momentum as it looks to articulate the push and pull between the obligations of religion and the overwhelming sway of sexuality. Sharply constructed with a heavy spray of noirish aroma, “Into Temptation” is a uniquely accomplished indie film, wielding salacious material sensitively, building an intoxicating sense of intrigue and discomfort.
Slightly bored with his daily business as a priest, Father John Buerlien (Jeremy Sisto) finds the arrival of a prostitute named Linda (Kristin Chenoweth) in his confessional captures his curiosity. Asking for absolution before she attempts suicide, Linda takes off into the night, leaving John consumed with finding her. Delving into the seedy underbelly of the city, John questions a series of unsavory types to learn more about this mysterious woman entangled in his every thought. Linda, on a crash course with death, seeks her own peace, confronting the violations of her life as she prepares for the end.
It’s a difficult proposition to craft a film concerning a priest dealing with his celibacy in the growing shadow of everyday lust. Writer/director Patrick Coyle treats the soulful disturbance with tremendous care, shaping a tale of obsession that’s soothing in surprising ways and utterly respectful of its characters. It’s terrific filmmaking that winds John’s distress methodically, observing the priest shaken out of the coma of his daily life by Linda’s confession, finding urges submerged long ago creeping back into his thoughts, challenging the rigidity of his heavenly devotion. In the great tradition of high drama, Coyle muddies the water further with the introduction of Nadine (played vibrantly by Amy Matthews), John’s one and only girlfriend, who has returned decades later, hopeful to reignite their love affair.
Coyle allows his actors marvelous scenes of introspection, gathering these silent moments to nurture a pensive mood of deliberation as John and Linda contemplate their life-changing choices. Of course, this retrieves career-best work from Sisto (wonderfully torn and aware), while Chenoweth is permitted an unusually grim role she’s handles beautifully. Linda isn’t a one-note lady of the night, but a damaged, abused soul electing to end a lifelong series of betrayals and numbing sexual interactions. Chenoweth is raw and real, shaping a devastating portrait of emotional submission limping to the end. Thankfully, Coyle doesn’t push the cast into melodramatic nonsense, maintaining a nice edge of authenticity to the reactions and generous meditation that goes on during the film.
Magnificently shot by cinematographer David Doyle (who turns happy-go-lucky Minneapolis into an imposing den of sin) and backed by a soft jazz score by Russell Holsapple, “Into Temptation” renders John’s mission as a classic detective story of sorts, creating workable mystery and threat as John plunges further into immorality to chase clues, frightening his congregation and startling his confidant (Brian Baumgartner). Coyle attempts to tie it all neatly together in the end, and while I wasn’t convinced by the outcome, the journey there is tremendously satisfying, reinforced by superbly confident filmmaking.