Sympathy for the devil in ‘The Rite’ 

Father Lucas doesn’t toe the company line. The Vatican’s resident exorcist for more than 20 years, he struggles with misgivings — about God, and the Catholic church’s stringent interpretations of His laws — but rather than hide them behind a cloak of righteous certainty, he flaunts them with something like pride.

He is, as a former governor of Alaska might say, a maverick.

There is no mistaking the mystery behind the good father’s mischievous blue eyes, which seem to sparkle as he assumes his familiar bedside manner, coaxing the devil out of his latest victim and back into the ether.

So casual is Lucas in his dealings with Lucifer, an old, respected adversary, that he even puts an exorcism on hold to take a non-satanic phone call.

Is he a fraud? Michael (Colin O’Donoghue), a seminarian sent from America to apprentice with Lucas, initially rejects possession as a plausible explanation for the bizarre behavior he witnesses, and with good reason.

A skeptic himself, Michael struggles to embrace church doctrine. Lucas, far from discouraging his doubts, counsels him to hold them dear.

It seems inevitable that Michael’s wavering faith will be put to the test when Lucas, after decades of flirting with the devil, seems to have succumbed to his dirty tricks.

It’s a welcome development, however predictable, in that it allows Anthony Hopkins to chew the scenery with some semblance of the silky menace he brought to the carnivorous Hannibal Lecter.

Hopkins could play Father Lucas in his sleep, of course, and while his performance here is more the serviceable work of a savvy veteran than something truly inspired, he keeps “The Rite” off life support for the better part of two hours.

That’s no simple feat. Absent the spinning heads and split-pea soup of “The Exorcist,” the movie to which Mikael Hafström’s thriller owes an obvious debt of inspiration, “The Rite” moves sluggishly toward a not very satisfying denouement.

Clearly, given his taste for ponderous theological musings and exhaustive exposition, Hafström intends the movie more as a cerebral exercise than a triumph of special effects. But a little action might have gone a long way toward mitigating the tedium of a melodrama where people talk a lot, but rarely manage to say anything we haven’t heard before.

Possession just ain’t what it used to be.


The Rite ??

Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones

Written by Michael Petroni

Directed by Mikael Hafström

Rated PG-13

Running time 1 hour, 53 minute

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