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The Confession Review

on Mon, 05/30/2011 - 00:00

Mankind has debated such concepts as good versus evil, free will versus destiny, perception versus reality and the nature of the human being from the dawn of time. The Ancient Greek philosopher Plato utilized the narrative form of “dialogues” to convey the teachings of Socrates, for instance, a series of discussions between his mentor and his followers, and numerous authors, playwrights and scriptwriters have followed suit through the centuries to likewise explore the meaning of life and morality. From William Shakespeare’s King Lear to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot to the ABC drama Lost, such philosophical inquiries have raged on in various literary forms.

With The Confession, the web series has become the latest narrative medium to tackle many of the concepts raised thousands of years ago in the writings of Plato. The storyline is simple enough—on Christmas Eve, a professional hit man engages an elderly priest in a series of discussions on the role of faith, the darkness that surrounds the soul, the need for compassion and the evil that perpetrates the world. While the main structure is more fitting for the stage than the screen, with the two characters sitting inside a church confessional, the dialogue is often spliced with scenes from the hit man’s life that not only add action into the mix but offer additional insights into his nature and convictions.

The Confession greatly benefits from the veteran actors cast in the web series. Kiefer Sutherland portrays the hit man and brings the same intensity and sense of self-righteousness that he embedded into Jack Bauer on the FOX drama 24. “They possess a lot of the similar skills,” Sutherland remarked to TV Guide about the two characters before clarifying in regards to his Confession persona, “This is a bad guy.” John Hurt, meanwhile, is cast in the role of the priest. With a lengthy Shakespearean resume attached to his career, Hurt’s performance adds gravitas to the proceedings while likewise raising the narrative to a higher level of dramatic quality.

The Confession begins with Kiefer Sutherland entering the confessional of a church as a lone choir girl sings “Silent Night” in the background. While the character freely admits his sins to Hurt, it is clear that he is not looking for redemption or penance but merely understanding. His last victim asked for a moment to “make his peace with God,” and the calmness of the man before Sutherland executed him has rattled the hit man. He thus questions the priest for an explanation regarding the power of faith, even though he himself dismisses it. From there, the conversation between the two men evolve into discussions on the concepts of free will, how there is darkness inside man and whether certain people deserve to die.

In addition to the philosophical debates, The Confession also explores the story of Kiefer Sutherland’s character through the use of flashbacks, including his first assignment as a professional killer and the rare moments when he did not follow through on his orders. “It is not for you to decide who lives and who dies,” John Hurt replies before psychoanalyzing his counterpart’s upbringing in a broken childhood home and the subsequent need for power and attention.

Kiefer Sutherland’s hit man likewise analyzes the character of John Hurt and concludes that the priest has not always been pure in thought or in action—in fact, he joined the priesthood in penance for the misguided direction of his own youth. The narrative thus peels away the nature of the two men as the storyline moves along, adding further depth to their conversations. Additional tension is provided by the fact that the hit man plans to kill again that evening unless the priest can convince him otherwise, and the ending twist of the final installments not only deliver an effective conclusion to the action but the ever-rising nature of the debate between the two main characters as well.

Kiefer Sutherland not only stars in The Confession but also developed the storyline for the web series after meeting Chris Young of Digital Broadcasting Group. “Chris started talking about wanting to do a drama, but his criteria was different—a drama in five-minute episodes,” the actor told Entertainment Weekly. “It was one of those things, like a puzzle over the course of the lunch. It can’t be complicated to figure out a story in five minutes, right? I couldn’t, and it frustrated the crap out of me. So I went home that night, still thinking about it, and it stayed with me for three days. I was falling asleep when I literally got this idea of a confessional.”

The Confession was originally released exclusively on Hulu in late March of 2011. According to GigaOM, the professionally polished web series began to show a profit within two months, quite a feat at the time even with the star-power of Kiefer Sutherland and John Hurt attached to the project. With its philosophically-themed narrative and dialogue-styled structure, The Confession is a Twenty First Century descendent of Plato and William Shakespeare—proving that a well-written, well-acted and quality production can find both an audience and financial success regardless of the medium.

Anthony Letizia (May 30, 2011)

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