The trappings have changed, but Hollywood movies continue to deliver the same sort of messages they did back in the days of the afternoon serial: true love triumphs, the good guy wins, and evil is punished. It’s been left to nonfiction films such as Deliver Us From Evil to reveal the abundant contemporary instances of unpunished arrogance, malfeasance, and infamy. No wonder the documentary genre is thriving.

Although its implications are considerably broader, writer-director Amy Berg’s appalling but essential film is largely the biography of one man: genial Irish retiree Oliver O’Grady. His tale can’t be told, however, without reference to his victims and to the people who abetted and concealed his crimes. O’Grady was a Catholic priest and a voracious pedophile who flourished in a series of central California parishes for most of the 1970s and ’80s. He molested both boys and girls, with his youngest known victim just 9 months old. He cultivated relationships with adults just to get to their children, and he fooled his closest supporters for decades. When O’Grady was finally arrested, the couple that paid his bail was, at the time, completely unaware that he had repeatedly abused their own daughter.

Documentaries require not only compelling stories but also people and events that speak to the camera. Remarkably, Berg got everyone on film that she needed for this deftly constructed film, which recounts the events so clearly that no narration is required. O’Grady himself explains his lust for children with chilling frankness, even if he’s inclined to refer to his sexual assaults as “affection” rather than abuse. (This self-delusion may explain why he was willing to talk.) Several of his now-grown victims and their families also appear, as does the shadowy archvillain of the piece, Cardinal Roger Mahony, now Archbishop of Los Angeles but once the local bishop who did nothing to stop O’Grady’s well-documented predations. While the remarkably forgetful Mahony didn’t sit for an interview, Berg gets plenty from his videotaped deposition.

The central episode involves the Jyono family, whose daughter Ann was one of O’Grady’s most convenient targets. Bob Jyono is a Japanese-American who converted to Catholicism when he married his wife Maria, who grew up in Ireland. In part because of the old-country connection, Maria Jyono and O’Grady became close friends, and he often stayed at the family’s house. Years after he molested Ann, when O’Grady was finally busted—by a cop whose wedding the priest had performed—the Jyonos got him out of jail. But then Bob Jyono asked his daughter if O’Grady had abused her and realized the truth when she wouldn’t answer. Ann says she stayed mum because she feared her father would kill the priest, and the mild-mannered Bob does indeed have an on-screen breakdown that suggests he’s capable of murdering his daughter’s exploiter.

Deliver Us From Evil’s principal spokesman on the larger issues of priestly sexual abuse is Father Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer who sacrificed his career in the church to the cause of ending such crimes. He explains the feudal relationship between clergy and laity in the Roman Catholic system, which implicitly supposes that priests and bishops are superior—even when their behavior is anything but. In its final chapter, the film observes Doyle, Ann, and another O’Grady victim as they attempt to deliver a letter to the Vatican. When they’re turned away, Doyle is not surprised. After all, the man who used to be responsible for protecting children from clerical misconduct recently changed his name to Benedict XVI.

Just last week, the case of the Rev. Ted (“I bought but didn’t use”) Haggard again proved the eternal relevance of Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis’ 1927 satire of a hustling, amoral evangelist. But if Gantry and Haggard are figures of morbid amusement, there are no laughs in Berg’s documentary. There is only horror and outrage, as it’s disclosed that O’Grady served only seven years in jail, was deported to Ireland, and was awarded an annuity by the church in exchange for his silence in court. Berg’s footage of the defrocked priest wandering parks and playgrounds in Dublin, appraising small children at play, has set off alarms in Ireland, and there are reports that he’s left the country. Wherever he goes and whatever he does, however, Deliver Us From Evil plainly establishes that O’Grady is merely an unusually candid symptom of a much larger malady.

There are movies whose very predictability is part of the game, where the gears mesh exactly as expected and the outcome arrives like a gift you bought and wrapped for yourself. Such flicks, however, usually offer something to supplement their utterly unsurprising plots: perhaps song-and-dance numbers, or action set pieces, or at least some charm. A Good Year, however, relies mostly on scenery—pretty landscapes and comely performers.

Actually, this Englishman-in-Provence fable does muster a little charm. It’s just that none of it comes from the leading man, Russell Crowe, and very little comes from the director, Ridley Scott. The latter, making his comedy debut after 30 years of crusaders, aliens, gladiators, and replicants, seems particularly misplaced here. He allows the movie to drag on for nearly two hours, as if it were an epic rather than a trifle, and insists on treating the script’s easily anticipated developments as potential astonishments. Scott attempts to prolong suspense without realizing that the tale doesn’t generate any to begin with.

The story, adapted by Marc Klein from Peter Mayle’s novel, follows a ruthless, self-satisfied London financial trader who’s transformed when he inherits his uncle’s chateau and winery in the south of France. Max (Crowe with a floppy-bangs Hugh Grant haircut) is impatient, greedy, superficial, and devoted to London, yet he will inevitably abandon it for Provence, fall in love with the most attractive woman in town, and do the right thing by the American cousin who could contest his claim to the property. Anyone who doubts for a moment that these things will happen is too credulous to watch a movie such as this—or perhaps to direct one.

The piece opens “a few vintages ago” with Max as an amiably pretentious young boy (Freddie Highmore). He loves France, wine—diluted, of course—and his only living relative, warmhearted if sententious Uncle Henry (Albert Finney). Max grows up to forget all that (and more), so he’s a bit surprised to learn, upon Henry’s death, that the old man seems to have willed the estate to him. (The paperwork is ambiguous.) Leaving behind beautiful assistant Gemma (Archie Panjabi), Max heads to France, but only to make arrangements to sell Henry’s place. Circumstances contrive to keep Max in Provence longer than he planned, and soon he’s in love with beautiful spitfire (and cafe owner) Fanny (Marion Cotillard). Then beautiful oenophile Christie (Abbie Cornish) arrives from Napa to meet Henry, her alleged biological father, unaware that he’s dead. At first, Max attempts to manipulate these women for his own purposes, but something in the, uh, water changes his temperament.

Panjabi, Cotillard, and Cornish aren’t given much to do, but they’re each much more engaging than Crowe, who lacks the ease for comedy (and the accent to play a Londoner). And the intermittent flashbacks to Henry and young Max are sweet, if unabashedly corny. That’s surely what the director intended, though. Any film whose score features the Everly Brothers, Johnny Hallyday, lots of Nilsson, and a French version of “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” does not mean to be tough-minded or cutting-edge.

If A Good Year is sentimental, dawdling, and self-indulgent, that’s probably because it’s more than just the reunion of the director and star of Gladiator. Ridley Scott and Peter Mayle worked together in advertising in London before each became wildly successful doing other things, and both men have homes in southern France. For Mayle, the novel that inspired this film was essentially a sideways rewrite of his A Year in Provence, the memoir that transformed his vision of rural France into a literary industry. For Scott, the movie is a chance to show that he appreciates a lighter touch than his films customarily display; the film’s dog, for example, is named Tati, after the Gallic master of bewildered slapstick.

It’s unlikely, however, that the late Jacques Tati is gazing down approvingly. If A Good Year demonstrates that Scott loves French wine, film, and women, it also shows that—cinematically, at least—he doesn’t know what to do about it. Except, that is, to train his camera on lovely places and people and hope that the Under the Tuscan Sun audience will turn out no matter how weak the buzz is.CP