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The Rite’ needs an exorcism from its predictable premise

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Anthony Hopkins has yet to play an unconvincing psychologically-twisted bad guy. But, unfortunately, even his Academy-Award-winning acting talent could not help save “The Rite.” Sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, the movie progresses slowly towards a predictable end.

Inspired by true events, the movie follows Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), the son of a Russian immigrant who enters the seminary to escape his family’s funeral home business. He is skeptical of religion and faith but desires a college education and a release from his dreary and depressing life. His Father Superior, however, sees potential in him and sends him to Rome to attend an exorcism class.

His skepticism follows him to Rome, where he meets Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins). Lucas is an unorthodox priest who specializes in exorcisms. Kovak feels drawn to him, and through their interactions, Lucas introduces him to the darker side of religion. All these experiences help Kovak find his true faith and vocation.

The movie could have been engaging and a nail-biter, but it followed a predictable story arc and gave away most of the plot in the trailers. Anthony Hopkins has played the creepy bad guy too much for his role to be surprising. And to pit him against an attractive, young male lead, scarred by his upbringing? Well, now you have to work extremely hard to not make this movie formulaic.

Despite his overdone role, Hopkins still turns in a masterful performance. At the appropriate times, he creeps us out or tugs at our heartstrings. He has not lost his touch. His character’s transformation, though, from exorcising priest to possessed man seems a little forced at the beginning. It’s unclear whether the transition was simply not written well, but the evolution seems jumpy.

O’Donoghue falls flat in his feature film debut. At times, his skepticism seems real, and his depressing childhood engenders sympathy. But he mostly tries to act with his face. He dons an innocent, dopey look, which he uses to convey surprise, disbelief and epiphany. You name an emotion, and he used the same expression to convey it.

But O’Donoghue has potential. His bright blue eyes conjure up images of a younger Paul Newman or Robert Redford, just with a much darker head of hair. And his acting was not all lackluster; in his moment of revelation, his emotion was real and his talent visible. Hopefully he can develop his acting skills in the next few years and really make his mark in Hollywood.

“The Rite” does live up to its hype as a psychological thriller with its creepy and graphic scenes of demonic possessions, although they sometimes seem over the top. Black cats, frogs and red-eyed creatures abound. And although the plot is formulaic and predictable, the movie still manages to surprise and alarm the audience with its thrills and violence. The often-graphic scenes are not for the faint of heart, but they satisfy the average thriller enthusiast.

But overall, “The Rite” fails to really excite. Even Hopkins could not save the unsurprising plot arches and uninspiring acting of his costars. However, if the storylines of scary movies do not interest you and you only attend for the thrills, then this may be the movie for you. For more thrills, you can visit Father Kovak’s parish, where he still performs exorcisms, in a Chicago suburb.