Christian Movie Reviews - Family Friendly Entertainment

The Rite Gets Only Some Things Right

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated May 01, 2013
<i>The Rite</i> Gets Only Some Things Right

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.

Still, The Rite's box-office performance will dictate whether or not we see more religious-themed movies that take spirituality seriously. That's not an endorsement of the film—just a reminder of how Hollywood works. The decision as to whether the film is worth your time is yours to make.


  • Language/Profanity: "S-it"; crude reference to sex; "b-tch"; "Go to hell!" the devil is said to rape his children; the "f" word; "Oh God"; crude reference to female body part; "kick your butt."
  • Alcohol/Drugs: A bar scene; a woman brings beer to men.
  • Sex/Nudity: None, except for a woman's legs and upper thighs are exposed while she is writhing around during scenes of possession; a woman makes a lewd gesture.
  • Violence/Crime: A mortician stitches a corpse; violent video games are briefly seen; woman on a bicycle is struck by a car; vomiting of blood and nails; a boy says he's tormented in his dreams by a creature that leaves visible marks on his torso; a pregnant woman and her child are endangered; Michael is choked in a dream sequence; a child is struck on the face by an adult.
  • Religion/Morals: Religious iconography is pictured several times; A question heard in the film's opening moments: "Do you believe in sin?"; a quote from Pope John Paul II about the devil; Michael's father tells him, "We serve the dead but we don't talk about them. It brings bad luck"; a movie marquee reads "Redemption Theater"; a man attends seminary, decides he doesn't believe the Catholic Church's teachings, but then trains as an exorcist; Michael's father explains that his deceased wife's pain has gone because God has taken it away; a priest quotes John 15:16, in which Jesus says, "You did not choose me. I chose you"; a dying woman asks Michael to bless her; images and audio of possession victims; a priest says "He that committeth sin is of the devil"; demons mock the name of Jesus and quote and twist Scripture; Michael says his mother felt the hand of God on him.

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