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The Rite

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins and Marta Gastini star in "The Rite."
Any movie that opens with a quotation from Pope John Paul II and ends with the sight of a dedicated priest hearing his parishioners' confessions is well calculated to win the support and approval of viewers of faith. And so it is with the religiously honorable drama "The Rite" (Warner Bros.).

Considered purely as a piece of cinema, however, this descent into the tortured world of the demonically possessed, and of those who courageously minister to them, proves aesthetically tentative, its ultimate impact weakened by the effort to showcase its main character's spiritual journey—a conversion tale based on real events—as an old-fashioned chillfest.

That central character is skeptical seminarian Michael Kovak, played by feature film newcomer Colin O'Donoghue in an impressive first outing.

Having pursued priestly studies mainly to get a free college education and avoid following in the footsteps of his undertaker father, Istvan (Rutger Hauer)—with whom he shares a tangled relationship —Michael sends off a resignation e-mail soon after his ordination as a transitional deacon.

But the recipient of his message—his superior, Father Matthew (Toby Jones)—is convinced that Michael possesses at least the pastoral qualities of a good priest. So, to forestall his departure, Father Matthew dispatches Michael to Rome to complete a Vatican-sponsored course in exorcism.

There Michael vents his ongoing doubts—not just about devils and such, but about the very existence of God as well—both to fellow student Angeline (Alice Braga), an Italian reporter who has enrolled in the class for research purposes, and to their instructor, Dominican Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds).

Knowing a hard case when he sees one, Father Xavier arranges for Michael to serve an informal apprenticeship with veteran demon fighter Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a forthright Welshman renowned for his unusual but effective approach to his work.

The inexplicable experiences that follow, as Father Lucas and his initially reluctant protege wrestle with the dark forces at work on pregnant teen Rosaria (Marta Gastini), force Michael to reassess his secular certainties.

The idea that a contemporary doubter should be moved toward belief in the source of absolute good by witnessing the effects of absolute evil run amok is certainly an intriguing one.

But Michael's story—a fictionalized version of the life of Father Gary Thomas of the Diocese of San Jose, Calif., as recounted in journalist Matt Baglio's 2009 book, "The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist"—would have been more effectively presented on its own terms.

Instead, it has been wedged, somewhat uncomfortably, into the mold of a conventional horror movie. The effect is to diffuse its valuable underlying message, though enough of that endures to make the picture, despite the objectionable features listed below, possibly acceptable for mature teens.

The film contains incest and suicide themes, some gruesome imagery, incidental irreverence, a couple of uses of profanity and a few rough and crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13

John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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James of the Marche: Meet one of the fathers of the modern pawnshop! 
<p>James was born in the Marche of Ancona, in central Italy along the Adriatic Sea. After earning doctorates in canon and civil law at the University of Perugia, he joined the Friars Minor and began a very austere life. He fasted nine months of the year; he slept three hours a night. St. Bernardine of Siena told him to moderate his penances. </p><p>James studied theology with St. John of Capistrano. Ordained in 1420, James began a preaching career that took him all over Italy and through 13 Central and Eastern European countries. This extremely popular preacher converted many people (250,000 at one estimate) and helped spread devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. His sermons prompted numerous Catholics to reform their lives and many men joined the Franciscans under his influence. </p><p>With John of Capistrano, Albert of Sarteano and Bernardine of Siena, James is considered one of the "four pillars" of the Observant movement among the Franciscans. These friars became known especially for their preaching. </p><p>To combat extremely high interest rates, James established <i>montes pietatis</i> (literally, mountains of charity)--nonprofit credit organizations that lent money at very low rates on pawned objects. </p><p>Not everyone was happy with the work James did. Twice assassins lost their nerve when they came face to face with him. James died in 1476 and was canonized in 1726.</p> American Catholic Blog Let us never tire of seeking the Lord—of letting ourselves be sought by him—of tending over our relationship with him in silence and prayerful listening. Let us keep our gaze fixed on him, the center of time and history; let us make room for his presence within us.

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