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Actors! They just can’t help themselves when a juicy part comes along. And that is why Oscar-winner Sir Anthony Hopkins finds himself in “The Rite,” an “inspired by a true story” thriller about an exorcist who struggles with his own demons.

Actors who go over the top are often described as “chewing the scenery.” Sir Anthony here doesn’t just chew the scenery; he grinds it into dust.

 

The movie begins with Michael (“The Tudors'” Colin O’Donoghue), preparing a body for burial, the artifice of stuffing the inside of the mouth and sewing it shut to make it look comfortingly “real.” Michael and his father are undertakers, working out of their home. “We serve the dead but we don’t talk about them,” Michael’s taciturn father (Rutger Hauer) responds when Michael asks about her. Michael is not at all sure he is a believer, but in his family the only options are mortician and priest, so he enters seminary.

 

Four years later, he plans to leave. He is still not sure of his faith. One of his teachers persuades him (in part by threatening to turn his scholarship into a six-figure loan) to take a class at the Vatican in exorcism.

 

In Rome, he meets a Welsh priest named Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins) who lets him watch as he tries to exorcise a demon from a pregnant teenager. Michael acts as the representative of the audience by expressing his skepticism — how do the priests know that it is not just mental illness? Can we believe, in an era of science and empiricism, in demonic possession?

 

Director Mikael HÃ¥fström has a good eye and a deft touch. He films the settings beautifully. And he knows when to lighten the mood with a little comic relief, though it is a bit much when someone comes to the door and Trevant says, archly, “Speak of the devil!” O’Donoghue has an appealing screen presence and holds his own on screen with Hopkins.

 

 

But the movie falls about the same time Hopkins’ character does. Up to that point, it does a pretty good job of balancing the spooky-horror gotcha schocks with some sincerity about the validity of demonic possession. But once Hopkins starts unraveling, the movie — and the interest of the audience — does, too. Parents should know that the pllot concerns demonic possession and exorcism. There are many disturbing images including dead bodies. Possessed characters include a young pregnant girl and a priest, characters are injured and killed, and there is some some strong language and crude sexual references including incestuous rape.

Family discussion: When should we need proof and when should we rely on faith? Why is it important to know the demon’s name? How does this movie compare to your own beliefs?

 

If you like this, try: “The Exorcist” and read the interviews with the people involved in the movie and the real-life story.

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