DVD Release Date: May 17, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: January 28, 2011
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images and language including sexual references)
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Adaptation
Run Time: 112 min.
Director: Mikael Håfström
Actors: Colin O'Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins, Ciarán Hinds, Alice Braga, Toby Jones, Rutger Hauer

Oscar-winning actor Anthony Hopkins has built his career on memorable performances in such films as The Silence of the Lambs, The Remains of the Day and Nixon. But who is Colin O'Donoghue?

O'Donoghue is the lead character of The Rite, a religious thriller from director Mikael Håfström (1408) and writer Michael Petroni (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), loosely based on a book by Matt Baglio. And that's the film's major hurdle: O'Donoghue's character isn't half as interesting as Hopkins' character, nor is O'Donoghue half the actor the veteran thespian is.

The resulting film is quite uneven, but it deals with its subject matter—faith, conviction and the power of the unexplainable—with a seriousness of tone appropriate to its "inspired by a true story" scenario.

The tale revolves around Michael Kovak (O'Donoghue), a seminary student ready to leave the institution training him as a priest. He's never really believed in the Catholic Church's teaching, he confides to fellow seminary-class student Angeline (Alice Braga), a journalist who has come to study the increase in the church's exorcism-related activities.

Michael's attempt to inform Father Matthew (Toby Jones) of his decision to leave the school leads to a chain of events resulting in a young woman's death. Far from pushing Michael to flee, his response to the tragedy impresses Father Matthew, who recommends that Michael be exposed to Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), an exorcist. Maybe talking to Trevant, and assisting him in exorcisms, will steer Matthew to true belief in God.

The Rite sets all this up rather nicely, but the relationship between Michael and Father Lucas stalls after they specify their various beliefs, or lack thereof, in the Almighty. One exorcism scene piles on to another, with the manifestations of demons failing to persuade Michael of anything other than psychological manifestations as the cause of troubles among those who seek Father Lucas' help.

The Rite is essentially the story of one man's religious doubts and skepticism butting up against phenomena he can't explain. While the conclusion of Michael's journey is somewhat gratifying, The Rite botches enough spiritual points along the way to make one wonder about its intentions.

For instance, a character encourages Michael to follow through with a crucial task by saying, "It's fate," followed by "You are not alone"—an endorsement of the impersonal followed by a reassurance of a personal spiritual presence. The film also suggests that demonic possession can befall those who belong to God—a troubling understanding of the possibility of the threats to believers in Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Nevertheless, the film gets many things right. It shows how possession can come in forms more subtle than what viewers and readers of The Exorcist might expect. It effectively shows weariness among those on the front lines of spiritual warfare. And, it demonstrates that not all believers come to faith in Jesus the same way.

We're left with a film that feels compelling in its subject matter but only partially effective in its execution, due mainly to the imbalance of acting talent and a screenplay that's a bit slow to develop. The Rite may generate some good post-viewing discussion, but it's not in the same league as Scott Derrickson's The Exorcism of Emily Rose.