The Pope's Exorcist
Russell Crowe furthers his transformation into late "Gladiator" co-star Oliver Reed with "The Pope's Exorcist."
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Exorcism movies generally don’t do a whole helluva lot for me aside from William Friedkin’s 1973 subgenre granddaddy “The Exorcist.” I was mostly curious about “The Pope’s Exorcist” (now in theaters) because I dug director Julius Avery’s sophomore feature “Overlord” (his third offering the Sylvester Stallone superhero movie “Samaritan” far less so) and I’ve been a Russell Crowe stan since the mid-1990s. Turns out Crowe is reason enough to sit (not stand or kneel) through “The Pope’s Exorcist.”
Crowe stars as the late, real-life priest Father Gabriele Amorth, who as the title suggests served as the personal exorcist to The Pope (here played by the OG Django himself, Franco Nero) from 1986 until his demise at the age of 91 in 2016.
It’s Italy in the late ‘80s and Amorth is in a bit of hot water with a council fronted by Cardinal Sullivan (Ryan O’Grady) following the suicide of a young woman named Rosaria (Bianca Bardoe) and for having employed animal sacrifice and uttering Satan’s name in exorcising the demon Halphas from a young man named Enzo (River Hawkins).
Thankfully for Amorth he has a friend on the council in the form of Bishop Lumumba (Cornell John) and pressing business to attend to in San Sebastian, Spain. It’s here that an American family comprised of mother Julia (Mike Flanagan regular Alex Essoe), daughter Amy (Laurel Marsden of “Ms. Marvel”) and son Henry (newcomer Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) move into an abbey bestowed upon them by their late husband/father Roberto (Santi Bayón). Roberto perished in a car accident one year prior for which Henry was present … he’s remained silent ever since. Quicker than you can say Regan MacNeil, Henry’s possessed by the demon Asmodeus (vividly voiced by aces character actor Ralph Ineson). It’s up to Amorth and younger, local priest Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto, playing against type) to save Henry’s life and soul.
“The Pope’s Exorcist” as directed by Avery and scripted by Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos (they’re old hands at this sort of stuff with the former having co-written the Anthony Hopkins vehicle “The Rite” and the latter co-writing and directing 2021’s “The Unholy”) isn’t an especially good movie, but it’s always an entertaining one. It bathes in the clichés inherent to the possession subgenre (bodies contort, folks are flung to and fro, sexual threats are gutturally uttered) and takes itself entirely too seriously. In spite of or possibly because of this, it’s also often very funny.
Much of this is attributable to Crowe. His Italian accent is suspect but consistent. Crowe’s portrayal of Amorth further cements his transformation into late “Gladiator” co-star Oliver Reed. (There’s a bit of Ken Russell’s “The Devils” kinkiness to further drive this idea home.) Speaking of driving, Crowe’s Amorth rides a Ferrari scooter in vestments while Faith No More’s “We Care a Lot” blares in the background … I could watch an hour and 43 minutes of this alone. (Other badass needle drops include Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone” and the Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary.”)
If “The Pope’s Exorcist” were a pizza the movie itself would be cheap crust, sauce and cheese and Crowe would be some much-needed capocollo or prosciutto … that is to say he’s a ham.