National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes 05.22.11

BY Steven D. Greydanus

Register Film Critic

May 22-June 4, 2011 Issue | Posted 5/13/11 at 12:45 PM


The Rite (2011) PICK

Gods and Generals (2002) PASS

Gettysburg (1993) PICK

The Sign of the Cross


Loosely inspired by Matt Baglio’s nonfiction book documenting the training of an exorcist, The Rite is in some ways the most sober depiction of possession and exorcism to come from Hollywood and the most pious exorcism film I’ve seen.

Anthony Hopkins plays an unconventional exorcist working in Rome, and Catholic newcomer Colin O’Donoghue stars as a doubting seminarian roped into a Vatican-sponsored training initiative for new exorcists.

This is not a world in which demons manifest openly or in which sacred objects like crosses or holy water are omnipotent over the forces of darkness. Exorcism in The Rite is a long, drawn-out process that can last for weeks, months or even longer.

It’s far from perfect. There are bits where it tips over into absurdity. Like any film that covers this territory, it requires critical viewing. Still, it’s a pretty thoughtful depiction of doubt and faith — one of a tiny number of exorcism films that offers a spiritual take on what most films in the genre treat as mere horror-movie trappings. 

New on Blu-ray, Gettysburg is Ron Maxwell’s serious-minded dramatization of the critical Civil War battle that turned the tide of the war against the South. A four-hour film with an intermission, Gettysburg was originally developed as a TNT miniseries but released theatrically to critical acclaim.  

Rather than conventional war-movie character drama, Gettysburg focuses on establishing the historical context, tactics, strategizing and the vagaries of battle — all with minute attention to historical accuracy. The cast includes Martin Sheen (as Robert E. Lee), Jeff Daniels and Tom Berenger. Worth seeing.  

Less successful is the prequel Gods and Generals. Although it follows the first film in focusing on recreating landmark events in the wars, it stumbles in its efforts to present both sides in as favorable a light as possible, particularly underplaying the issue of slavery (acceptable in a four-day account of one battle; less so in a more sweeping film).  

Celebrating its 80th anniversary, The Sign of the Cross was Cecil B. DeMille’s first big talkie hit — and one of his most exploitative films, with surface piety providing a pretext for unprecedented on-screen sex and violence. Controversy over the film helped lead to the formation of the Legion of Decency and the Production Code Administration.  

Among the more infamous bits are Claudette Colbert’s bath; a lascivious dance sequence; and blood-sport sequences involving people and animals and other scenes of violent fighting. Skip it.


CONTENT ADVISORY: The Rite: Demonic possession (blasphemies, taunts, etc.); a number of violent deaths and disturbing images; disturbing family themes, including references to incest; references to suicide; an obscenity and few profane and crass sexual remarks. Mature viewing. Gettysburg: Harrowing battlefield content. Teens and up.