"Choosing not to believe in the devil won't protect you from him."
In 1973 filmmakers claimed they based "The Exorcist" on true events. A few years later, filmmakers claimed they based "The Amityville Horror" on true events. In 2011, filmmakers claimed they based "The Rite" on true events. OK, "inspired by true events," to be exact. Draw your own conclusions.
And why is it always the Catholic Church that gets drawn into these things? Why don't we ever hear about, say, a Southern Baptist preacher or a Methodist minister or a Mormon Elder or a Jewish Rabbi or a Hindu monk chasing after demons and devils? It's almost a cliché nowadays that any time a movie deals with demonic possession, they have to call in a Catholic priest to do the exorcism. Doesn't anybody else believe in this stuff? Is no other church up to snuff in the exorcism department? I dunno. Just asking.
So, in this one Anthony Hopkins, no less, plays the Church's leading exorcist, Father Lucas Trevane. A favorite of the Vatican, he works out of Rome, he's that important, having performed thousands of exorcisms in his lifetime. But we don't meet Father Lucas for quite a while into the film. Although he is the center of attention when he's on screen, the story is really about a young man training for the priesthood and training to be an exorcist, Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue). If the film had concentrated more on Father Lucas, it might have improved things.
As it is, we get a movie about Michael. We see his youth, the death of his mother, and his going into the family mortuary business at a young age. Interestingly, Rutger Hauer plays Michael's father in a role all too brief. Anyway, we also learn that the males in the Kovak family either go into the mortuary business or become priests. After finding the mortuary business rather depressing, Michael chooses to become a priest, even though he's not all that convinced he wants to be one.
After four years in a seminary, Michael is about to take his vows when more doubts set in. Michael's mentor at the seminary, Father Matthew (Tobey Jones), persuades him to try his hand at becoming an exorcist for the Church. It seems that demonic possession is on the rise, and the Church needs more trained exorcists. Besides, it means a free trip to Rome for the course, so Michael agrees.
Once there he meets Father Lucas (Hopkins), the Church's most-experienced exorcist, who agrees to help teach him, along with the Church's official Vatican courses in the subject. Michael is still skeptical, questioning not only the validity of exorcism but the legitimacy of Father Lucas and his methods. Frankly, he thinks Father Lucas is a fraud.
The story involves Michael, Father Lucas, and an investigative journalist Michael meets, Angelina Vargas (Alice Braga) as they pursue various supposed exorcisms. Fair enough, but it's not exactly the kind of material around which to build an entire movie, being too thin in its approach.
The film is a little creepy, I'll admit, but it's not particularly scary. Nor did the filmmakers intend it as a horror film. That's the thing: The trailers and the posters and the promotion for the movie make it seem like another "Exorcist." It isn't. You'll find no swiveling heads or green vomit here, although there are a few scenes that stretch credibility by going in that direction.
However, Hopkins is really quite good in the part. His character takes almost everything in stride, at least until late in the film, making him almost comical. Later, even his character begins to doubt his faith. Hopkins dominates every scene he's in and almost makes the movie worthwhile; he just doesn't have enough to do to make us care about him or the story.
Mikael Hafstrom ("Vendetta," "Derailed," "1048") directs a screenplay by Michael Petroni "suggested" by a book by Matt Baglio. The filmmakers valiantly attempt to explain Michael's dilemma as a doubter, and by the movie's second half it does get quite a bit more intense as various inexplicable events beset the character. The main problem is that we have already seen too many movies exploring the theme of a priest questioning his faith, and "The Rite" adds nothing new to the game. Another problem is that the filmmakers want it both ways: They want to produce a film that looks and feels entirely authentic, yet one that combines elements of standard horror. It doesn't work.
Worse, "The Rite" is slow and often tedious getting to its point. In an epilogue we learn that the phrase "inspired by true events" that opens the movie really means "fictional." As long as the filmmakers were creating a fiction, maybe they shouldn't have tried so hard to make it seem real, while not convincing us it was anything but nonsense. I'm more for the swiveling heads and green vomit.
Warner engineers do a good job transferring the movie to Blu-ray disc, using a dual-layer BD50 and MPEG-4/AVC encoding to reproduce it in its native aspect ratio, 2.40:1. The picture looks beautiful, sharp and crisp, with colors natural and lifelike. Solid black levels set off the hues well, emphasizing the fine delineation in the process.
Using lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the disc sounds almost as good as it looks, especially in the front channels. The sonics are clear and clean, the midrange well focused, the highs extended, the bass and dynamics more than adequate. There is not as much surround activity as one would expect from this kind of movie, though, mostly musical-ambience bloom with occasional side and rear-channel noises. Still, I'm sure the audio track does whatever it needs to do in replicating the movie experience.
The extras begin with a short featurette, "The Rite: Soldier of God," about seven minutes on the real-life priest who inspired the book; it's the story behind the story and also takes us to the real exorcism school in Rome. Next, there's a brief alternate ending, which is spookier than the one finally used in the movie but cornier as well. Then, there are several deleted scenes totaling about a dozen minutes.
The regular extras conclude with twelve scene selections; a gauge for expired time; BD-Live access; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. A flimsy Eco-case holds everything, the case further enclosed by a light-cardboard slipcover.
Finally, since this is a Blu-ray Combo edition, it contains the feature film on high-definition Blu-ray disc, on standard-definition DVD, and on digital copy (the offer expiring May 15, 2012).
Thank goodness for Anthony Hopkins; he's worth watching in anything. Otherwise, there is nothing very special about "The Rite," another routine look at demonic possessions and the priests who work so diligently to protect us against them. The Wife-O-Meter left the room at about the halfway point, saying the film was boring. Her score is usually right on, so I'll go with it.