Screen Rant's Kofi Outlaw Reviews The Rite
If The Rite is proof of anything, it's that the often odd and mysterious nature of real life doesn't always translate into the best movie. While this familiar tale of faith and skepticism isn't the disaster some might expect, it is, at best, a mundane entry in the exorcism sub-genre.
In fact, if not for the presence of Anthony Hopkins, who often is the only spark keeping the heart of this film beating, The Rite would likely be one of the dullest stories about the devil ever told.
Based on the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by journalist Matt Baglio, the film follows young priest-in-training Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue), who flees a depressing life working at home in his father's (Rutger Hauer) mortuary business by enrolling in seminary school. However, Michael is not the stalwart man of faith his priest collar would suggest: events of his past have put him at odds with his beliefs, and his theological training has done little to resolve that conflict.
After one seemingly fated moment of divine intervention, Father Matthew (Toby Jones) comes to believe in Michael's potential to serve God, and so he sends his student off to Rome to enter a new program on exorcism at a school attached to the Vatican. There, Michael's petulance and doubt about the authenticity of exorcism cause the teacher of the course (Ciarán Hinds) to send the young priest-in-training to the home of Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), a priest with a long resume of successful exorcisms conducted in very unorthodox ways.
However, even after seeing the frightening evidence of the eccentric Father Lucas' work, Matthew still struggles with his beliefs - that is until strange and ominous occurrences force the young skeptic to consider the possibility that The Devil is indeed real...and may have his eyes on him.
The Rite was directed by Mikael Håfström, best known for helming the adaptation of the Stephen King story 1408, and the Clive Owen / Jennifer Aniston mystery thriller, Derailed. People tend to know both those films more for the performances of their stars, and The Rite will likely be no different. Håfström is a competent enough director, who works from a slightly dull and bleak visual palette, but I can't say that any of his films really stick out in terms of their craftsmanship. If anything, Håfström has become accomplished at telling slightly odd or off-kilter stories in a sensible, economical way, from start to finish. And that's exactly what The Rite feels like: a sensible, by-the-numbers films that knows the limit of its own potential.
Baglio's book was one of deep probing questions about the reality of exorcism vs. the image of it presented by cinema, but the script for this movie version only clears room for the more familiar and superficial tropes. The script was written by Michael Petroni, best known for condensing other literary works like Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys into easily digestible cinematic narratives. With The Rite, Petroni sticks to thoroughly-mined themes of the exorcism sub-genre (atheism vs. faith, "possession" vs. mental illness) - though it must be acknowledged that the film does ease us into the story at a surprisingly relaxed and purposed pace. More time is spent establishing the character of Michael Kovak and his backstory than you might expect from by-the-numbers genre film, and what is established at the start works well at making the climax - and all its implications about the nature of god and faith - resonate in the end, if only slightly.
As for the acting: Colin O'Donoghue is a somewhat boring protagonist as Kovak, all brooding and seriousness, his only wit seemingly found in the witty lines he's called upon to deliver. He falls on the wrong side of the line between stoicism and stiffness throughout most of the film - a distinction made all the more apparent by the over-the-top (hammy?) performance of Anthony Hopkins.
The Rite requires Hopkins to bring a drastic bit of range to his role, and what we basically get it is re-heated Hannibal Lecter schtick clothed in priest's robes. I bring up Hopkins' most famous performance because like Lecter, father Lucas presents a mix of piercing intelligence and wild savagery, tied together by that screen-filing charisma that is now Hopkins' trademark. Every gesture and movement the man makes, every line (no matter how bad) he delivers, and every twitch of his face is interesting to watch - which is good thing, because as I stated before, Hopkins is pretty much the only interesting thing to watch at many times during this film.
Oh, by the way, Alice Braga (Predators) is also in the movie, playing Kovak's journalist friend and fellow skeptic, Angeline. Angeline is basically the onscreen version of Matt Baglio converted into a female role (for his book, Baglio followed the real-life inspirations for Father Lucas and Kovak around Italy), and there's little reason for Braga's presence here, other than to fulfill the obligatory role of a romantic interest. Braga is a solid actress, and I do often wish she was given better roles to work with - but this is certainly not one of them. Cut her character out and the film would essentially remain unchanged.
The Rite does try to offer some philosophical food for thought - but they're really just appetizers. We've seen stories of faith questioned and faith tested many, many times before, and had them presented to us in far more interesting ways than this. The Rite is only recommended for those viewers who prefer the shallow end of theological quandary, or those who get goosebumps from the standard silly bag of PG-13 scares. If you don't fit either of those descriptions, you may want to wait until this little devil hits home video.
Check out the trailer for The Rite: