Anthony Hopkins is one of those rare actors that can make anything not only watchable, but even enjoyable on some level. The Rite is the latest film that he has blessed with his presence. Without him, The Rite wouldn't even justify a watch. And while it's still not a great film, there is enjoyment to be had.
The Rite is a film about exorcisms and the men who perform them. As far as this subgenre goes - which really seems to be seeing a lot of action lately - The Rite doesn't really break any new ground. There are two plots happening at once and it's like they're in competition to see which can do more damage to a dead horse. The main plot revolves around the priests attempting to exorcise a demon. There are multiple exorcisms, but only because this particularly demon is tougher than all the rest. Will they get the demon in time? I won't tell you, but I will tell you that you'll have a hard time caring.
The subplot involves budding priest and exorcist-in-training Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) and his struggle to keep his faith. In films like this, where spirituality plays a big part, somebody is always struggling with their faith. Even if it has little to no signifigance to the overall plot, someone will spend the film questioning their beliefs, only to be reassured in the end that God exists and that they're doing his work.
The Rite's major weakness, as I have just layed out, is in its story. The film actually claims to be based on a true story, and while I won't get into my feelings towards that, I will say this: true story or not, if it's been done before, it's been done before. Let's say I lose my mind tomorrow, dress up like a giant bat, and start fighting clowns. It would be a sensational story, no doubt. But if somebody decides to make a film about it, despite the fact that they're basing their film on a true story, they're still going to make Batman. There are plenty of excorcism films on the market - some would say too many - and The Rite simply adds to the collection.
The shortcomings in the plot are disappointing because the film shines so much elsewhere. The directing is effective, painting a very scary Rome, rich with tension and dread. The performances are good, especially of Sir Anthony Hopkins. When a lot is asked of him, he delivers expertly, reminding everyone how he's made such a name for himself. Newcomer O'Donoghue does a commendable job as Kovak. Alice Braga plays Angelina, who is a secular breath of fresh air in a sea of exotic catholicism.
The Rite, at its best, is an atmospheric thriller that's plenty creepy. At its worst, it's an opportunity for Hopkins to completely let loose, and you could do a lot worse than that.
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