Movie review of The Rite - Talented actors wasted in smaller roles in The Rite, with Anthony Hopkins. (1 1/2 out of 5) rating.
I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at the caveats the beginning and end credits of THE RITE kept hurling at its viewers, whether the official line that it’s “inspired” by true events, the strangely ambiguous description of its relationship to Matt Baglio's The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, or its damning disclaimer at the very end, “This is a work of fiction.” But whether THE RITE is a work of fiction or non-, or it exists in some factual purgatory lodged between the two, in the end what matters most is whether the story it delivers is a compelling one, and in that respect it indubitably fails.
Seminary student Michael Kovak (played by newcomer Colin O'Donoghue) is sent to the Vatican learn about exorcisms; he’s told it’s an appropriate experience for potential clergymen like himself: full of promise – and full of doubt. In Rome he shadows the kindly but mysterious Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), an actual exorcist plagued by his own struggles with his faith.
Director Mikael Hafstroem (1408, plus a number of films I’d never heard of) thus takes on a subject already explosively introduced to moviegoers in 1973, the groundbreaking horror classic THE EXORCIST. As proof of how revered the film continues to be, The Library of Congress announced just a little over a month ago that they’d selected William Friedkin’s film to be added to the National Films Registry, reserved for those special few movies they consider “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” True, Linda Blair and her pea soup opened almost forty years ago. Yet generations of filmgoers since have become accustomed to “The power of Christ compels you!” theme on the big screen. In addition to THE EXORCIST’s lame sequels, in recent years alone we’ve been spooked (or not) by THE LAST EXORCISM (2010), THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005), EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004), DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST (2004) and STIGMATA (1999). Not to mention the laundry list of films featuring demonic possession in all its other various stripes - pardon the pun, but these movies are legion. The LA Times just posted a slideshow of examples, citing everything from PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and JENNIFER’S BODY in the 2000’s to THE SHINING and AMITYVILLE HORROR in the 70’s.
Long story short, THE RITE had its work cut out for it and then some. But not only does it fail to breathe new life into an over-explored mini-genre, it commits the far worse moviemaking sin of boring its audience silly.
Newcomer Colin O'Donoghue’s handsome priest-in-training Kovak is sullen and oh so bland - I’m not sure he cracked a smile once. However, Hopkins is charming and even disarmingly funny in his pre-possessed state, a welcome respite from Kovak’s unending ennui when Trevant enters the picture a good thirty minutes in. Sir Anthony Hopkins yet again displays an ability to instantly engage audiences, and I could happily have followed his conflicted, un-possessed priest ‘round Rome as he attended to the spiritually afflicted.
But sadly, such is not the case. Father Trevant’s possession is inevitable - we know it from the trailer, after all. Yet surprisingly, this man of God’s transformation into a monster and his subsequent showdown with Kovac and a reporter (Alice Braga) make for the least interesting part of the film. His twisted, Bizarro priest is in fact Hannibal Lecter, cleverly baiting and plucking at the insecurities of his young, wide-eyed challengers. Whether it’s simple type casting or Hopkins resorting to resurrecting his old Oscar-winning pal, we’ve seen the exact same smirks, glares and tsk tsking before. 1991’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS provided an awe-inspiring performance, but upon being revived as n altogether different character in an inferior film today, it feels a bit like cheating. Not only that, it feels cheesy.
The creepiest part of the film involves the exorcism of a young pregnant woman whose scenes take place in the first half of the film. Since hers is the first possession we see in THE RITE, we don’t yet know whether she’s capable of harming Trevant or Kovac, let alone herself or her unborn child. Once her time in the film concludes however and we know what the THE RITE’s version of the possessed are capable of (it ain’t much!), Kovac’s tete-a-tete with the possessed priest carries no suspense whatsoever. Yes, the CGI whirligigs on Hopkins’ face are creepy. But that is not enough to make what’s essentially a staring match with a harmless old man strapped to a chair terrifying. In fact the only scary thing Trevant does takes place in a quick scene with a little girl – it’s so out of the blue and shocking to our sense that it works! But that’s just for a few seconds. Kovac also has some creepy visions, one of the funeral home where he worked, but then again THE RITE’s opening credits paired with a corpse’s funeral preparation felt too reminiscent of HBO’s “Six Feet Under.”
Alice Braga’s journalist is presumably loosely based on author Matt Baglio (gender switched of course), but she discredits herself through both her lightning quick conversion to true believer status and unconvincing reaction to the extraordinary events taking place before her eyes. (For that matter O'Donoghue is also too reserved for someone facing a demonic priest turning blue and speaking in his dead father’s voice). One other thing I find irritating about Braga (Sonia’s niece) is how often she’s been popping up in horror/suspense films lately - I AM LEGEND, PREDATORS, BLINDNESS, REPO MEN… I felt annoyed when she suddenly showed up in this one too.
Some very talented actors are wasted in smaller roles, lacking both adequate screen time and material to work with. Three of those are Rutger Hauer (one of my faves), who plays Kovac’s father; Toby Jones as the priest who arranges Kovac’s time in Rome; and Ciarán Hinds as a priest at the Vatican.
Finally, the film’s tagline, “You can only defeat it when you believe in it” makes the young skeptical priest’s crisis of faith a little too easy to make predictions about toward the end. Fortunately, THE RITE isn’t bad enough to cause my own crisis of faith in today’s horror-suspense films, but it is enough to instill in me the conviction that big-budget, substandard moviemaking deserves its own category of sin.
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Genre/s: Thriller Horror
Release Date/s: 28 January, 2011 (Showtimes, Tickets)
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Production Company: Contrafilm, Fletcher & Company and New Line Cinema
CAST & CREW:
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciarán Hinds, Rutger Hauer, Chris Marquette, Franco Nero, Toby Jones
Directed By: Mikael Håfström
Written By: Michael Petroni based on the book by Matt Baglio
Produced By: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson