Friday, June 24, 2011

Film Friday: The Rite (2011)

Exorcism has become big business since The Exorcist scared audiences to their immortal souls. In fact, these days, you can’t swing a demonic cat without hitting a would-be exorcist. Hollywood has dutifully exploited this craze by turning out about two exorcism-related films a year. Unfortunately, Hollywood fears diverging from formula, so it keeps. . . remaking. . . the. . . same. . . film. And no exorcism film shows this more than The Rite. Is it the exact plot of The Exorcist? Not quite, but it might as well be.

** spoiler alert **

Few exorcism films diverge very far from The Exorcist formula. Some priest who has lost his faith ends up doing an exorcism with an old priest who has been doing exorcism for decades. Something happens in the young priest’s personal life that gives the demon “an in” and the young priest struggles against “his inner demons.” Then the old priest steps out for ice cream or gets hit by a bus and the young priest must step up. Only then does he realize that he does indeed have faith and he saves the day. Roll credits. . . collect gate receipts.

The Rite is no different. Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) went to seminary because he didn’t know what else to do with his life and he wanted a college education. At graduation, he announces that he intends to return to civilian life. Naturally, the head of the school sees something within Michael that will drive the plot, so he convinces Michael to attend a class on exorcism in Rome. . . all expenses paid. In Rome, Michael is assigned to help Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) with an exorcism. Hilarity ensues.

Hopkins provides a fine performance, as usual. O’Donoghue is adequate. The direction is adequate as well, and the film uses very few special effects, which I found a refreshing change of pace. Beyond that, there is nothing to commend this film because it just won’t diverge from formula. Consider this:
● Father Damien Karras from The Exorcist was a trained psychiatrist who saw exorcism as Dark Age mysticism. So is Michael. In fact, psychology was his best class and he keeps whining about getting the exorcee psychiatric help.

● Father Damien lost his faith. Michael never really had much and has lost what he had.

● Father Damien was haunted by his mother dying alone in what appears to be a mental hospital or a public clinic. Michael is haunted by his bad relationship with his father (Rutger Hauer), a mortician, who lives alone.

● Father Damien’s mother dies during the exorcism, which allows the demon to speak to Damien in her voice. Michael’s father dies during the exorcism, which allows the demon to speak to Michael in his voice.

● Father Merrin dies in The Exorcist and Damien must continue without him. Father Lucas is incapacitated and Michael must continue without him.

● Both demons prove their existence by speaking in languages the possessed cannot know, and both times that proof is dismissed. Etc. etc.
The few differences aren’t noticeable either. To give the story a semi-love interest, Michael is befriended by a reporter (Alice Braga) who is taking the exorcism course to write a scathing expose on the practice. She ends up assisting in the exorcism, but is really a non-entity. Unlike The Exorcist, The Rite involves two separate exorcisms, but this doesn’t really add much either. And there is a problem with Father Lucas, which I guess is the real twist but adds nothing that feels the least bit new. Beyond that, there isn’t much difference.

It’s frustrating that Hollywood has once again set out to just photocopy a previously successful film. This may make watchable films, but they are intensely bland and there’s no reason to see them if you’ve seen the original. It’s like a boy band remaking another boy band’s hit song.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Consider two independent films. The Last Exorcism (2010) was an interesting concept that fell completely apart near the end. . . seriously fell apart (this is not a recommendation). But before that, it was interesting. That one involves Reverend Cotton Marcus, a man who fakes exorcisms for cash. Only this time, he’s in over his head as the family turns out to be certifiable, the area seems to be crawling with a cult, and the demon might actually be real. Or how about The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), which involves a criminal case against a priest who performed an exorcism on a patient who dies. And even beyond this, there are a million variations they could try. Change the religion. Give the demon a purpose. Twist the whole story around. Come on people. The short-lived BBC series Apparitions had all kinds of neat twists, with opposing priests, a Satanic cult, a Saint who possesses a child, a Muslim who was told to convert, etc.

Everything was technically right about The Rite and yet it was dull. It was dull because we’ve all seen this a dozen times. Maybe Hollywood needs the exorcism?

38 comments:

AndrewPrice said...

As an unrelated aside, I just read that Peter Falk died. He was always one of my favorites. R.I.P.

Tennessee Jed said...

yeah, I saw that as well. R.I.P. Columbo

For the matter at hand. I loved the Exorcist, but don't need to see it again and again. I appreciate that you took the time to see it to confirm now I don't do have to. It's a pity such a fine actor found the need to do this film.

T-Rav said...

Sad to say, I never watched Columbo. But my mom liked it, and I generally assume the stuff she grew up watching is better than the drek on TV now, so that sucks.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I often find myself wondering what these actors are thinking? Surely it can't be for the money? So I'm assuming he saw something in the script that made him think "this would be a great role." I just don't know what that could be?

And on the constant remaking of The Exorcist, I guess I'm just a sucker that I keep checking these films out hoping there is something original -- though I don't pay for them at this point, just HBO or Netflix. But there never is anything original. I don't get that either. If you're a "creative" person, like a writer or director, wouldn't you want to do something new -- not just repeat what everyone else has already done?

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Columbo was a very likable show. Falk had a great personality and the whole concept was fun -- the bumbling detective. My favorite role of his though was as Sam Diamond in The Cheap Detective, a parody of Bogart as Sam Spade.

T-Rav said...

As far as The Rite goes, demonic possession movies bother me in general, so I don't watch them.

I did, however, kinda like Hopkins' line from the trailer. It went something like, "Every skeptic keeps demanding proof of what we deal with. But that's not the question. The question is, what on earth would you do if you found it [proof]?" Food for thought.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Yeah, that was a good line and is definitely something to think about.

In fact, it raises a question raised by the movie Constantine that I think about a lot. Constantine hunts demons to try to make up for a unforgivable sin earlier in life. At one point he's talking to the angel Gabriel, and he says: "I believe in God, so why can't I go to Heaven?" Gabriel responds, "you don't believe, you KNOW. . . there's a difference."

I wonder if there is a difference? Does it change the nature of something to believe in it or to know it's real?

I similar question you see a lot in horror films (which always strikes me as false logic) is that if the devil is real, then God must be real too. I think that's false logic used to explain to a non-believer audience why a character suddenly gets their faith back... but again, it's an interesting question?

CrispyRice said...

Looks like something to pass on! Thanks for taking the hit for the team, Andrew!

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome Crispy, that's what blogging is all about -- taking one for the team now and then! :-)

Ed said...

Andrew, I saw "The Last Exorcism" and I think I had the same reaction you did. I thought it was very creative and interesting until about 20 minutes from the ending, when it just went completely off the rails.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Yeah, that's exactly what I thought. I enjoyed it quite a big until it went really wrong at the ending. Until that point it was hard to tell where it was going and it was quite interesting. But the ending was just completely out of the blue.

By the way, Eli Roth produced it, which I think is interesting. It doesn't strike me as bloody enough for one of his films?

Ed said...

Andrew, One other thing I would add about Hopkins, I do like him, but I think he's a very limited actor. He just plays Anthony Hopkins in every role.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I actually agree with you, with this caveat -- I like what he does. I've written about that before (at some point), that some actors blend into their roles and that others play themselves. Hopkins pretty much plays himself at this point -- I might have disagreed with your assessment early in his career, in fact, he was almost unrecognizable in some of his early films. But by this point, he plays himself.

Still, I think he picks his roles carefully enough that he's usually perfect in them. In other words, it's not like he's taking on a role written from Tom Cruise.

ScottDS said...

Surely it can't be for the money?

Sometimes it is! As Michael Caine said when asked about Jaws: The Revenge: "I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific."

As for Peter Falk, he and Jack Lemmon made a great team in Blake Edwards' The Great Race: "Push the button, Max!!!" And I think you might be mistaken: he played Sam Diamond in Murder by Death. I also enjoyed him in Jon Favreau's Made.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott,

Whoops. Thanks for the correction/reminder. He plays "Lou Peckinpaugh" in The Cheap Detective..... both that and Murder By Death are brilliant movies, by the way.

I like The Great Race too. And wasn't he a cabbie in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World? That's another good early ensemble film.

On Caine, that's a depressing but honest quote. I can't say he's wrong to think that way either. But you would hope that a guy like Hopkins at this point in his career wouldn't need the money and would instead be working on films he likes? But who knows. Maybe he did need the money? Maybe he just wanted the money? Maybe he thought there was something good in the script?

Ed said...

Andrew, I agree with that. I think he plays himself, but it's a good self. I think a lot of actors play themselves these days because it makes them easier to market.

Ed said...

Also, on your point about knowing versus believing, I think it's an interest question. Is faith a good thing because of the process of believing unconditionally or is faith a good thing because you're right? Also, can you believe unconditionally if you know or is that cheating? I don't have an answer for you, but it sounds like a pretty interesting question.

Tennessee Jed said...

Here we go: King Richard, Claudius, Adolf Hitler, Richard Nixon, Hannibal Lecter. My goodness! One of his more recent films I really like (and for which I'm working on a review) is Fracture, another somewhat overlooked gem. The question might just be not how much he does or doesn't play himself. I believe he does a wonderful job of making you forget he is Anthony F'ing Hopkins, and brings you into the characters he portrays.

I agree with Scott. People enjoy living well. Contrary to what Obama tells us, rich people get used to playing life at a different financial level, and don't want to have to fall back after they taste it. Put more crassly, people's spending tends to rise in direct proportion to their income level.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, There is definitely something to that. It's a lot easier to sell Tom Cruise than it is to sell a guy who vanished into his roles.

On the other point, I think it is an excellent question, but I'm not sure there is an answer. In fact, I would think the answer will depend on your view of faith. Personally, I suspect there is something to the "believe" v. "know" question because there's definitely something more magical about things we only believe to be true than the more mundane things we know to be true.

Plus, I guess you could argue that if you knew God existed, you wouldn't be acting according to free will when you followed "the rules," you would be doing it under duress?

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I saw Fracture some time ago and if I remember correctly, I really liked it! I thought it was very nicely done.

I actually think I always see him as Anthony Hopkins, but like I say above, I like the "character" he plays and he always picks roles that work very well for him. So even though I do tend to see him as Anthony Hopkins, I really like him and want to see him in films.

On his roles, do you know the one I remember him most for (oddly)? It was smallish part in A Bridge Too Far. He plays a Lt. Colonel who gets dropped way behind enemy lines and ends up in desperate straits. He does a great job in that being very, very British.

On the spending, yeah, that seems to be true that the more money someone gets, the more they want to spend. So I absolutely can't dismiss the "just for the money" angle. Nor do I mean to imply there's anything wrong with that. I don't believe the "starving artist" bunk. If someone wants to pay me to be an actor what they pay Hopkins, I'd jump on it no matter what the role is, and I would never begrudge anyone a chance to make money. My only thinking is that he strikes me as a guy who you would think would be doing this more for love than money at this point and I don't know what he saw in this script that he loved. It may have been nothing, but there could be something that really drew him in?

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I was actually thinking of Constantine when I was typing that. Great minds blah blah blah...

I really enjoy watching Constantine, largely due to its raising questions such as that. (And also the fact that the movie does in the end uphold religious belief.) I think there's a passage from Scripture that addresses that issue--it might be from James, but I can't remember, help me out someone--and it basically says no, it's not enough simply to acknowledge God's existence. Even demons do that much. The difference is putting your trust in Him and following and obeying His commands.

Constantine, for example, knows very well that God exists, and does follow some kind of moral code, but shows no interest in worshipping Him. Only at the end of the movie does he acknowledge his need for God, show some real humility, and finally begin turning his life around. The movie's not perfect, but I like it because of those themes. I have no idea about The Rite, but I suspect it does not do this, or at least not nearly as well.

Tennessee Jed said...

that can actually make for a good discussion just on it's own, I think (the notion of an actor playing himself, that is.) It may actually be more prevalent aming actors, both good and bad, than we think. Off the top of my head, it seems that characteristic may be more likely with "movie stars." A few that come to mind are: John Wayne, Gene Hackman, and Kevin Costner. They all pretty much play themselves.

Here are three that I actually feel display broad acting range. Possibly the best of that group is Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate, Pappillon, Midnight Cowboy.) Another who has an incredibly broad range is Colin Farrell, and one perhaps not so obvious example is Reese Witherspoon.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I liked Constantine a lot as well for the same reasons you did. For one thing, while it was a comic book movie with comic book elements, it still had some really deep issues in it that they would hit you with suddenly. I like that because it makes your brain work and it gives you something to think about.

Secondly, I liked the message. I agree it wasn't perfect, but I felt that it really got the idea that believing in God is not just about saying "yeah, he's probably there," but actually requires more than that. One of the issues I have with so many religious movies is that the message seems to be "hey, just pretend you believe for a few minutes and you'll be saved long enough to solve the movie." Constantine really rejected that and stuck to its guns.

(Plus, I loved the devil in that one. What a creepy, disgusting, vile way to play the character -- that was so much better than what you see in films like Devil's Advocate where Satan is a clown.)

No, I never got anything that deep out of The Rite. The Rite struck me as very workman-like, depth free film that used the standard Hollywood "you don't need faith, you just need a moment where you believe in yourself" interpretation to solve the movie, and that really turns me off in these kinds of films that pretend to be theologically based.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I've discussed that briefly once in an article a long time ago and maybe it's time to bring it up again? I think it is an interesting topic. Here's the link: LINK.

I suspect that modern marketing has a lot to do with actors trying to brand themselves rather than disappearing into a role. When you get an actor who vanishes into the role, it's often hard to remember who they are.

Also, I agree with your list. I particularly like Colin Farrell on the list. I saw him in several films before I ever put together that he was the same guy (and even then it took me another couple years to learn he's not American... Irish or Welsch or something). I have been really impressed with his work.

I like Witherspoon too because she's been good at playing different roles without giving me the sense that she's just repeating herself.

Another one I like is Mathew Lillard, but sadly, probably because he's been so good at vanishing, his career seems to have peaked. But he's done a wide range of roles and is always believable as the character and not the actor.

I'm a big fan of character actors for this very reason too... they need to make you believe they are who they claim to be, or the film falls apart, i.e. they can't pretend to be just themselves.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, yeah, John Turturro was creepy in that role. (Was it Turturro? I think so, but whatever.) I thought the white suit was a nice touch, given how Lucifer's supposed to be a fallen angel and all.

I think the main problem with Constantine was the fact that it's based on a little-known comic book, and therefore a lot of the references in the film went over most people's heads. They definitely went over mine. And the plot could have been more clearly explained...how does this spear thing work again? But aside from that, I really liked the questions the movie was asking about faith and Constantine's search for redemption.

Incidentally, on the subject of versatile actors, I would add Heath Ledger to the list. He had a great range, and would have done even more in that regard if he'd lived.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That's one of the problems with using specialized material like a comic book -- there is a lot of insider knowledge and it's hard to get the right balance between informing the uninitiated and turning off the fans.

It was actually Peter Stormare (from Sweden).

Ledger was definitely good at that. Two more I think disappear into their roles are Ewan McGregor and Christian Bale.

Tennessee Jed said...

excellent, Andrew. I knew there was a vague familiarity to our discussion. See what you have to look forward to when you get older! (lol) Kind of ironic we had Hopkins in that discussion ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, You're right and it looks like I'm contradicting myself on Hopkins. LOL! But at least I mention that I like him from Bridge Too Far, so I'm not entirely crazy!

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Peter Falk will be missed.

I loved his Sam Diamond too. Before The Cheap Detective he played the same character in Murder By Death.

He really nailed the character and had extraordinary, comedic timing!
Between him and Peter Sellers I was in stitches the entire movie!

I liked him in Columbo too.

Didn't see the Rite so thanks for the heads up, Andrew!

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome Ben. It's an ok movie, but you won't miss it if it you don't see it.

Yeah, Falk will definitely be missed. He and Sellers were great in "Murder By Death." That movie really highlighted both of their skills and was laugh out loud funny.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

BTW, although Peter Falk character name in The Cheap Detective he still essentially played the same part (and both character were written by Neil Simon so it's no surprise).
Just to alleviate any confusion about the "same character" comment.

IMO Gene Hackman is just as adept at being a character actor as he is playing himself.
He can be quite convincing as a bad guy (or sort of bad guy) and the range of characters he has played has been exceptional.

Another one I like who can do both is James Caan. As well as Gary Cooper, Maureen O'Hara, Jimmy Stewart, Barbra Stanwyk, Lionel Barrymore and the brilliant Edward G. Robinson among others.
Also like Christian Bale as one to watch.

While the Dukes type of roles were very limited I think he did a great job with them.
He made me believe he was nearly every character he portrayed himself as.

Not sure how much opportunity he had vs desire for different roles.
I know the studios sure didn't want him being a bad guy or something they thought would ruin his image.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Regarding a guy like John Wayne, there is little doubt that he plays John Wayne in each role.... but it works. And in his case it works spectacularly. I think part of that is that he picked roles that suited him -- for example, he would never play a psycho killer. But part of it is also that there is just something so charismatic about him that the audience doesn't mind seeing John Wayne play himself.

I think that's true with many of the big named stars -- they have created an image that people like to see on screen. So they don't care that they aren't getting a chameleon, they actually want to see the brand-name.

On the confusion regarding Falk's character name, that's my fault. I misnamed his character in my first comment, so Scott corrected me. He was Sam Diamond in Murder By Death and Lou Peckinpaugh in The Cheap Detective. But they are essentially the same character -- a Bogart parody.

One of my favorite lines was when his secretary in Murder By Death asks him why he keeps "all those photos of musclemen in his office." And his response is, "suspects, I'm always looking for suspects." That is just funny on so many levels.

Tennessee Jed said...

As I re-read your post, I'm not sure you are being all that contradictory, certainly not any more than I was. We would mostly agree, I think, that Hopkins is a superb actor. He can play a wide variety of characters, but essentially plays them as the same soft spoken guy, who people tend to underestimate. This is true whether the character is Burt Munro from The World's Fastest Indian, the guy fighting for survival in "The Edge" or Hannibal Lector. Particularly after he becomes iconic, you cannot forget he is Hopkins, but he is good enough to sell the character regardless so eventually you do kind of "get over" who is playing the role and concentrate on the character.

Contrary to what Ben feels, however, Hackman is the same. Whether he is playing Buck Barrow, an evesdropper from The Conversation, Little Bill from The Unforgiven, or the coach from Hoosiers, Hackman has the same lopsided grin and self-deprecating sense of humor. The greatness of the actor sells that interpretation so that it works for a wide variety of different characters. Both have that extra quality that allows them to rise to the top of their profession, even though most of the characters they portray are played essentially the same way.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I'm glad to hear I wasn't too contradictory! :-)

I agree completely with your take on Hopkins. He's able to take a wide variety of roles, play them in his understated way, and make us believe each and every one. I think that takes something special.

I agree with you too about Hackman (sorry Ben). I think he's a great, great actor and I've liked him in everything I've ever seen him in, but he's always "Gene Hackman as" to me rather than the character.

The test I use when I think about this is that I ask myself, "when I talk about the film, do I use the character name or the actor name to describe the role?" I find that works in most cases.

For example, in Pirates of the Caribbean, I see the character as Captain Jack Sparrow, not as Depp, and I would refer to him as "Sparrow" if I were talking about the film. And the same is true of most of Depp's other roles -- I know him as the character first. Compare that to Tom Cruise, for whom I can barely name a character he has played -- to me, he's just Tom Cruise as a spy or Tom Cruise as a sports figure.

And trust me, I'm not using that as an indictment. I think both forms of acting are equally valid -- they're just different. In fact, I find that I like both types of actors equally.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew and Jed:

I don't disagree with you guys, especially after you clarified (I can be dense).

What I meant was, and I'll use John Wayne as an example, when he plays Rooster Cogburn he is Rooster (no offense to Jeff Bridges. I'm certain the Duke couldn't have been the Dude but it woulda been fun to watch).

Just as he was McClintock, Big Jake, Pappy Boyington, etc..
I knew he was Wayne but during the movies he was convincing as those characters as well.
So during True Grit I thought of him as Rooster.

Anyway, hope that clears things up a bit. You guys made excellent points. :^)

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Disagreement is fine! :-)

I actually see John Wayne as John Wayne -- always. To me he's John Wayne the flier or John Wayne the cowboy.... but I'm fine with that. I love his movies and I enjoy watching him do what he does.

In terms of taking over the role, which is what I think you're saying, I agree with that. Once John Wayne has put his imprint on a role, no one else can play it. He's just that BIG as an actor. Thus, while I do like Jeff Bridges, I honestly can't see him playing a role that belongs to John Wayne. Sorry Jeff.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew, irt Sam Diamond:

That is a funny quote, lol!
I also liked this exchange:

Sam's secretary: "Hold me Sam, I'm scared!"

Sam: "Hold yourself, I'm busy."

Ha ha!

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, That's a great quote! So is:

"Why don't you bother the little Jap kid."

and:

"Nobody move. I gotta go to the can and I don't wanna miss nothin."

I just love that movie!

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