The Pope’s Exorcist review: the power of Crowe compels you

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When a single mother’s son is plagued by a particularly demonic-looking stomach bug, she calls on the services of Chief Exorcist Father Gabrielle Amorth to solve the problem. Here’s our review…

Appropriately enough for a story based on the records of Father Gabrielle Amorth, the Vatican’s Chief Exorcist from 1986 to 2000, Russell Crowe spends most of his latest film behaving like a man possessed. He swaggers from one scene to the next, ecclesiastical robes billowing around him. His Italian accent which, if nothing else, is certainly Italian, drips with a cheeky uncle charm completely at odds with his physical heft. He rides a Vespa from Italy to Spain.

Crowe seems possessed, not by a demon or biblical ner-do-well, but by the very spirit of his film’s title. Everything The Pope’s Exorcist promises, from its ludicrous “based on a true story” conception to the combined weight of the hundreds of exorcism movies preceding it, the Gladiator star delivers in spades.

Unconstrained by questions of subtlety, by direction, by, dare we even say it, taste, he grabs the film by the throat and elevates it far above its C-movie origins. He may well be having a better time than most, if not all, of the audience, but that hardly matters. True movie stars, he says with every charismatic chuckle, don’t fly fighter jets or throw themselves off cliffs. True movie stars take scripts from the bottom of the pile and make very silly exorcism films wearing funny hats. And they make them so much better.

Our story begins in 1987, as recent widow Julia (Alex Essoe) is relocating her two children Amy (Laurel Marsden) and Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) to the decrepit Spanish abbey her husband inexplicably left them in his will. Henry hasn’t said a word since his father died a year ago – there’s a slim chance, as the narrative progresses, that he might just get possessed by a demon.

Meanwhile, in Rome, Father Gabrielle Amorth (Crowe) is taking a quick break from banishing hell spawn to get told off by a bunch of important-looking church-types. They don’t understand exorcisms, you see, and Amorth, maverick Pope-cop that he is, must justify why he keeps thrusting crucifixes at sick people and shooting pigs in the head.

Inevitably, it’s not long before Franco Nero’s The Pope (unspecified) sends our rogue ecclesiast on a top-secret mission to Spain, where a certain devil child has started telling everyone they’re going to die. Reducing the existential dread the existence of pure evil would presumably induce to a few threats of physical violence does sort of seem to miss the point of an exorcism movie, if we’re entirely honest, but that doesn’t matter – it’s all an excuse for our man Russell to saunter in and strut his stuff.

The Pope’s Exorcist, you see, is not a good film. Every possession movie cliché in the book finds its way in here. The jokes, mostly delivered by Crowe, are universally the least amusing things he says. The possessed-child makeup effects could have been traced from a DVD cover of William Friedkin and Peter Blatty’s 1973 film. People are thrown through mirrors, walls, doors and bathroom sinks with surprising frequency. By the end, it turns into a bit a CGI mess, and the whole thing is slightly less scary than The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

It is, however, very entertaining. A good star, like a good confession, can cover a lot of sins. The Pope’s Exorcist does seem like a bit of a left-field choice for this stage in Crowe’s career – but thank God it exists.

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