Well, last night myself and Caroline of the St Genesius Blog donned the glam gear and headed out on the town to the European Premiere of the The Rite in the Savoy. Thanks to Warner Brothers for the invitations. It had been a long day - the Divine Mercy Conference kept Frat volunteers busy - thanks to all of them, and welcome to the many new members who joined the ranks of our family of prayer over the weekend. After a hard day's work we looked forward to the film. There was a good crowd, though the auditorium was not full, afterwards there was a party at Whelan's - Colin O'Donoghue's band provided the music - good group.
So what did we think of the movie? Well I do not want to spoil it, so I will not give the plot away. Performances - very good. By far the best was Anthony Hopkins - and he is being praised for his role by critics. He plays the part of a crusty old priest very well, balanced between unorthodoxy of approach, humanity, faith, struggle and fatherly tenderness: there is also a tough side to him. Unfortunately while Hopkins is a great actor, you cannot escape his most famous role - Hannibal Lector, and I'm afraid there are lots of Hannibal moments. While the image of Hannibal Lector in a stole may be a bit extreme, it's not too far off the mark either. But his performance is great - and he gets all the great lines - and he has some brilliant lines.
Colin's performance was excellent. You probably expect me to wax lyrical about him, but I think I can be objective as well. Colin plays the serious young man role very well, and the part of seminarian Michael Kovak is made for him. I know a number of online reviews are not positive, but I would have to argue with them. No, he is not bubbling over, hamming it up, or doing the extreme hero, he is playing the quiet and conflicted seminarian who finds himself confronting a reality which he refuses to acknowlege even exists, and he does it very well. Interestingly he provides a good contrast to Hopkins who is hamming it up and making a meal of his role. Having seen Colin in a number of roles in various productions, this is his best and that is a good thing given it is his big screen movie debut. In fact le he manages to quieten down the movie: perhaps this is what the American critics didn't like, but to be honest, the director needed a character to bring depth to the film, to quieten it down given the subject matter that is very necessary - it is very easy to turn exorcism into Vaudeville - in this movie you are dealing with serious subject matter. I think Colin manages to do that and provide a contrast which keeps the movie rooted (in the first part anyway - more on that later).
Ciaran Hinds is the other actor I was very impressed with. Hinds is one of the finest Irish actors working at the moment. He plays a Dominican priest who is teaching the Exorcism course and puts the seminarian in touch with the crusty old exorcist. Hinds, or Fr Xavier, is the confident even arrogant academic who sknows his stuff, who knows he's right most of the time and a thorn in the side of the doubting seminarian. I have one complaint about Hind's role - it is not developed enough. I think there was so much potential in the role and Hinds has the ability to bring it much further, but the writers seemed content to leave him as he was and to allow him drop out altogether as the movie moves towards its climax - that is a pity. I would have loved to have seen the relationship between Hinds and Hopkins - there would have been endless possibilities there - including some comic ones, which would have been good.
What about the movie itself? It is really a film in two parts. The first is good. The researchers did their work and seemed content to present the reality of exorcism in the Church today rather than the Hollywood conception. Overall the movie's presentation of the Church and exorcism is positive and it is great to see movies like this being made. Mingled with Kovak's personal history, there is an interesting story there and it will keep you engaged, although his personal story comes as no surprise - stock material for conflicted young man. But it works.
However, for me, the second part does not live up to the first - I think the movie turns "Hollywood" at that stage. While there are a few factual errors in the first part (seminarian giving the Last Rites?) you can ignore them and get on with it. In the second part there are a number of errors, and one particularly glaring one which really cannot be ignored. If the writers had done any research they would have known this error was a no-no. This error, however, forms the basis of the storyline in the second part, so to be true to reality the writers would have had to take the movie in a different direction. But I think that was the moment the writers/director etc felt they had to work to a climax and had to shift gear to please an audience. I was disappointed with that. However, the performances were still excellent and, if you can suspend your critical faculties, the second part was entertaining and we enjoyed it. The last scene was very good - the outcome of the seminarian's faith crisis: full marks to writers and director for that one.
So - verdict? Very good. Second best exorcism movie I have seen so far - Emily Rose is still the best. I would advise you to go and see The Rite, critique my critique if you wish (don't forget the competition). You will enjoy it. It presents a positive view of the Church, takes a chance on trying to understand it from within, and for that the movie deserves our praise and support.