'The Rite' is Riveting! It Opens a Window to a Seldom Seen World
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"The Rite," which opens on Friday, is a supernatural thriller dealing with the most fundamental battle on earth - the conflict between good and evil, between God and our "adversary the devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (I Pt. 5:8) Based on factual reports, the film shows God's victory over the devil as well as doubt.
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WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - On Friday, January 28, "The Rite" will premier in theaters across the U.S. Inspired by true events of an actual Roman Catholic Priest, the movie follows the life of seminarian Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) who is sent to Rome to study exorcism. A troubled skeptic concerning all things regarding the faith, Kovak challenges his instructors on the reality of personal evil.
When Kovak is assigned to an experienced exorcist, Father Lucas Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), the world of the demonic is opened before him. At an appointment he attends with the priest, who has performed thousands of exorcisms, he immediately looks for the obvious, particularly in the realm of psychology, as an answer.
At one point, Father Lucas simply says to him, "Choosing not to believe in the Devil won't protect you from him."
Slowly and reluctantly Kovak begins to see things in a different light, especially when he is confronted with the torment of a young woman, Rosaria, who is possessed and finds himself a target of the evil one.
Along the way, he is befriended by a journalist, Angeline, (played by Brazilian actress Alice Braga) who is writing a story on exorcism while dealing with her own "demons" concerning the death of her brother. She shares his sense of skepticism and also hopes that he can help her get an interview with Father Lucas.
While witnessing the work of Father Lucas in exorcisms, the young seminarian is also battling inside regarding his relationship with solemn and detached father, Istvan Kovak - played by Rutger Hauer - and his personal faith and calling as a priest.
Kovak's faith and self-awareness are seriously challenged as the elder priest does not have the necessary skills to deal with the demonic forces that are gripping Rosaria. Father Lucas was facing an evil that was as terrifying as it was strong.
While "The Rite" would not be properly classified as a horror film, it is intense and graphic in the portrayal of demon possession. According to Father Gary Thomas, on whose experiences the film is loosely based, the scenes in the film truthfully represent possessions that he or other exorcists have actually witnessed. This makes the film all that more intriguing.
Producers Tripp Vinson and Beau Flynn ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose") found out about a book proposal from Matt Baglio, a reporter living in Rome. While covering the Vatican's initiative to appoint a trained exorcist in every diocese in the world, he thought this would make an interesting book.
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Really a textbook in disguise, "The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist," by Matt Baglio, chronicles the experiences of Father Gary Thomas during his time in training as an exorcist in Rome. Nothing at all like Michael Kovak in the movie, Father Gary is a mature and faithful priest who found himself being trained for an entirely different form of ministry. He served as a technical adviser for the film.
The producers contacted Michael Petroni, who was one of the writers for "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" to write the screenplay. Petroni, a practicing Catholic, coordinated the development of his screenplay with Baglio, who was writing the book at about the same time.
"I wanted to make the script as accurate as possible," Petroni said, but "I was often ratcheting back many of the stories" regarding the exorcism accounts.
Director Mikael Hĺfström ("1408," "Evil") accepted the invitation to direct, intrigued by the fact that he would be working from facts, not just someone's imagination. While the film is focused on exorcism, he also believes that "this story is about a young man finding himself and finding his way."
In preparation for the film, Hĺfström attended some exorcisms in Rome. He was not actually in the room but stayed in the waiting room and could hear what was taking place.
This kind of first-hand experience endowed the director with the ability to create a true-to-life texture in the film regarding the surroundings and environment found where exorcisms are held.
Anthony Hopkins is masterful in his role as Father Lucas, a priest who is quite eccentric and very human. "I've never played a priest before," Hopkins said in a recent interview, "so this was quite new to me." He indicated he was drawn to the script as it touches on our dark side - the psychosomatic and the psychological.
When asked how he felt about the reality of demons he stated that the part had "pushed me to examine my own life" and what he thought.
Michael Novak was played by a newcomer to feature films, Colin O'Donoghue, who sent the producers a homemade audition tape hoping he'd be noticed. Born and raised in Ireland, he was raised Catholic but exorcism was a new area for him to experience. He was able to view an exorcism as groundwork for his role.
The 30 year-old actor holds his own on the screen with Hopkins, who normally dominates a scene by his mere presence. Alice Braga, as the journalist Angeline, provides a somewhat warmer side to a movie that keeps you moving ever deeper into a dark world. Yet, even her character was haunted by issues that needed to be resolved.
There are a few lighter moments in the film. Once, in the middle of an exorcism Father Lucas' cell phone rings and he stops to take the call. Fr. Gary said that this actually happens in exorcisms.
As a Catholic, I was pleased with the way in which the Church and clergy were represented. In particular, the film shows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus Christ and His Church are triumphant over evil. I think you'll really like the end.
"The Exorcist," of course, remains a horror classic, complete with vomiting split pea soup and head-spinning. "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" was quite good and "The Last Exorcism" better than its reviews. "The Rite" however, is in a different class, rooted in actual case histories and practices. Certainly, Hollywood got involved - it had to provide entertainment value - but there is a quality to this film that sets it apart.
"The Rite," a Contrafilm production directed by Mikael Hĺfström, is presented by New Line Cinema and distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures.
I highly recommend this film. "The Rite," however, is PG-13 and for good reason; some of the exorcism scenes are quite graphic and unsettling. I would not recommend it for pre-teens.
Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online (http://virginia.catholic.org). He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
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