I suppose you could say that any movie, including the 2011 supernatural horror film, The Rite, will benefit from having the great Anthony Hopkins as its star. While the critics praised his performance as a dedicated exorcist, they hated just about everything else about the flick. But for me (you know, the easily entertained guy), his tour de force role was just icing on the demonic cake.
“INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS”
This disclaimer often means that what we see on the silver screen has little to do with what actually happened in real life. In this case the film was based on a non-fiction book called The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, the story of an American priest and exorcist-in-training, who was sent to Rome to be trained in the ritual. Seems that, at the time, the Catholic church in our country had a shortage of exorcists. Who knew?
Rather than a detailed synopsis, here is a brief overview of the story. A young man named Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donohue) works with his father as a mortician, and he hates it. Looking for a free college education, he enters the seminary with the idea that, after four years, he will renounce his faith and not take his vows. Good plan? Not so fast, his superior tells him. If he resigns, his scholarship will revert to a huge student loan, which he’ll have to pay back. Pause for thought.
But when he witnesses a horrific traffic accident, his life begins to change. The victim, a young woman, begs him for absolution of her sins. He reluctantly performs the rite, and she dies peacefully. His superior, observing the act, tells Michael that he was made for the priesthood, and he offers him an option to avoid losing his scholarship. The Catholic church, he says, needs exorcists, and if Michael at least goes to Rome and attends exorcism classes, he might be able to resign afterward without penalty.
In Italy, Michael learns about demonic possession from Father Xavier, who quickly observes Michael’s skepticism and dubious faith. He sends the young man to meet—and hopefully apprentice—a Welsh Jesuit exorcist named Father Lucas (Hopkins). Thus begins Michael’s journey of discovery at the hands of this quirky priest, who performs a number of exorcisms as his student observes him with ongoing cynicism.
The brooding Michael carries his own personal demons, mostly issues involving his parents. As Lucas performs an exorcism on a teenaged girl, the demon that possesses her ridicules Michael about those issues. How can that be? It is a start to his reawakening, though he still continues to resist.
As noted, Anthony Hopkins steals the show from the moment he appears on screen. His performance during the film’s final 15-20 minutes is amazing. I can’t say much more about it than that. The Rite is not everyone’s chalice of holy water, but if you approach the story with an open mind, you’ll likely enjoy it.