The Pope's Exorcist movie review (2023) | Roger Ebert (2024)


The Pope's Exorcist movie review (2023) | Roger Ebert (1)

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In his original 1973 review of "The Exorcist," Roger Ebert wrote about how right it was to cast the role of the older priest battling evilwith the great characteractorMax von Sydow:"He has been through so many religious and metaphysical crises in Ingmar Bergman’s filmsthat he almost seems to belong on a theological battlefield the wayJohn Waynebelonged on a horse."

"The Pope's Exorcist" combines those two images by casting Russell Crowe in the lead role ofFather Gabriele Amorth,a theologian, journalist, bookauthor, and thepope's designated exorcist. Amorth is a sly, tough, wisecracking priest who approaches each new missionlike a gunslinger. Instead of pistols, rifles, and hunting knives, he has an exorcism kit with crucifixes and holy waterthat he carries around in a case the size of asaddlebag.His horse is a red-and-white scooter that's too-small for Crowe's let-it-all-hang-out character-actor body but makes a perfect, wonderful sight gag for that reason. Amorth even has a tiny whiskey flask that he insists that he carries to ease hisscratchy throat.He'swritten and performed like one of those wry, hard-bitten bad-asses that used to be played in 1960s Westerns by aging butstill-popular action starslikeBurt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and (yes) John Wayne. Their characters pointed outthe hypocrisies of so-called civilization but defended itanyway.They'd seen it all, but could still be shocked.


Directed by Julius Avery ("Overlord")—and very, very, veryloosely inspired by a real priest whose story was told in a documentary by "Exorcist" directorWilliam Friedkin—the filmfollows Amorth to a decrepitabbey in rural Spain to drive a demon from the body of a young boy. It has beenmarketed as a horror film, but it's more busy and impatientthan creepy andscary, especially when it's cross-cutting between parallel lines of action happening in the abbey and back at the Vatican (where Franco Nero plays the pope,who knows there's more going on than a garden-variety possession). It's ultimately a theological action flickwith overtones of an old-fashionedWestern about an aging gunslinger who teams upwith an earnest but untested younger partner (Daniel Zovatto's Father Esquibel) to savewomen and children from a monstrous enemy.

Alex Essoe costars as Julia, a widowed mother of two whose husband died in a car accident two years earlier, leaving her the aforementioned abbey, which she hopes to refurbish to sell and pay off family debts. Julia has ateenaged daughter named Amy (LaurelMarsden)who is rebellious in a way that would've been called "loose" at one time, and a 12-year-old son named Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney)who ends up a host forsupernatural evil, which manifests itself in pretty much the same way it has since Friedkin adapted WilliamPeter Blatty's source novel: profanity, blasphemy, open sores, vomit, biting, levitation, bodies twisting in anatomically impossible ways. etc.

The opening sequence is the most original thing in the film: Amorth handles what amounts to an appetizer exorcism by trash-talking evil, inflaming its arrogance to trick it into defeating itself. The scene is just engaging enough to getour hopes up that we'vebeen introduced to a rare originalcharacter with endless franchise potential: thinkJames Bond in a turned-around collar, or a theological cousin ofDetective Columbo, whose odd mannerisms anddisheveled appearance make suspects underestimate him.There's even a postscript that makes it seem as if Amorth is joining anexorcist version of the Avengers Initiative. The producers blew an easy opportunity for applause by not ending the film with a printed title card promising "FATHER AMORTH WILL RETURN."


Unfortunately, “The Pope’s Exorcist”is a watchablebut far-from-specialrehash of exorcism movie cliches, with detours into a Vatican conspiracy plot that has been compared to Dan Brown's novels but half-assedly connects withchurch atrocities and scandals. The punchline is so convoluted and ridiculous that it seems toletthe Church off the hook for the Inquisition and the pedophilia cover-up by saying, in essence,"The devil made them do it."

Crowe makes the movie worth seeing. He plays Amorth as a pridefulcut-up, greeting viletaunts with a deadpan smirk and snappy answers. When the demon growls that he's Amorth's worst nightmare, Amorth replies, "My worst nightmare is France winning the World Cup." Crowe plays the character's dry, needling wit just right. He's even more appealing whenhe lets the audience seeinsecurities that the priestkeeps hidden. When Father Esquibel tells Amorth that he's read his articles about possession in magazines, Amorth mentions that he writes books, too, then softly adds, "The books are good."When Avery cuts to traveling shots of Amorth puttering on highways and country roads on his scooter, the frock, collar, fedora, and sunglasses make the character iconic: coolly ridiculous, ridiculously cool.

One can imagine rewatching bits and piecesof the movie justto savor Crowe's performance and his co-stars' awed responses toit. Crowe has been so good for so long that he glides through this role as if he has nothing to prove (even though the characterdoes). He goofs around and adds surprising littlegestures and reactionsto enliven a scene. But henever goes so far that he seems to be making fun of the movie.When Amorth discloses his own spiritual torment in a series of flashbacks, Crowe plays it straight, suffering and writhing as if he's imagining that he's in an Ingmar Bergman movie. He seems to be at roughly the same career point that PaulNewman arrived at in the early 1970s when his hair went silver and he lost most of his vanity. He's not suffering for his art anymore. Even when a scene is serious, he's having fun.

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Film Credits

The Pope's Exorcist movie review (2023) | Roger Ebert (9)

The Pope's Exorcist (2023)

Rated Rfor violent content, language, sexual references and some nudity.

104 minutes


Russell Croweas Father Gabriele Amorth

Daniel Zovattoas Father Esquibel

Alex Essoeas Julia

Franco Neroas The Pope

Laurel Marsdenas Amy

Cornell Johnas Bishop Lumumba

Ralph Inesonas Demon (voice)


  • Julius Avery

Writer (based on the books 'An Exorcist Tells His Story' and 'An Exorcist: More Stories' by)

  • Gabriele Amorth

Writer (screen story by)

  • R. Dean McCreary
  • Chester Hastings
  • Jeff Katz


  • Michael Petroni
  • Evan Spiliotopoulos


  • Khalid Mohtaseb


  • Matt Evans


  • Jed Kurzel

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