Unfortunately, “The Pope’s Exorcist” is a watchable but far-from-special rehash of exorcism movie cliches, with detours into a Vatican conspiracy plot that has been compared to Dan Brown’s novels but half-assedly connects with church atrocities and scandals. The punchline is so convoluted and ridiculous that it seems to let the 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 prideful cut-up, greeting vile taunts 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 when he lets the audience see insecurities that the priest keeps 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 pieces of the movie just to savor Crowe’s performance and his co-stars’ awed responses to it. Crowe has been so good for so long that he glides through this role as if he has nothing to prove (even though the character does). He goofs around and adds surprising little gestures and reactions to enliven a scene. But he never 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 writing as if he’s imagining that he’s in an Ingmar Bergman movie. He seems to be at roughly the same career point that Paul Newman 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.
Now playing in theaters.