Russell Crowe is one of my favorite actors in Hollywood. He has exceptional talents and versatility as an actor. From playing a Roman commander-turned-slave in Gladiator — probably my favorite film of his — to portraying a brilliant man suffering from schizophrenia in A Beautiful Mind, Crowe has proven he can pull off even the most complex of roles. He is an actor known to immerse himself into his characters, mentally and physically, making these characters feel real and relatable. Overall, Crowe’s impressive body of work and commitment to his craft makes him one of the most beloved people in cinema.
Crowe is not really known for delving into the world of horror and supernatural, though. The closest thing in his filmography would be Unhinged, in which he plays a murderer who lets his anger out on a woman after a road rage incident. While the film was scary in its own right, it wasn’t on the level that I typically appreciate. So, when he was cast as the lead in The Pope’s Exorcist, I found myself wondering just how far his acting chops can go.
This film is based on the real-life stories of Father Gabriele Amorth, an Italian Catholic priest serving as one of the exorcists ordained by the Roman Diocese who has conducted over 160,000 exorcisms. Taking place in the 1980s, Father Amorth (Crowe) is sent to Spain by the Pope (Franco Nero), to exorcise a demonically possessed boy named Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney).
Finding the possession is stronger than believed, Father Amorth enlists the aid of a local priest, Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), but the pair finds their faith may not be enough to defeat this evil entity, and the life of the Pope may be in danger, as well.
The Pope’s Exorcist is a truly compelling film (and not as in “the power of Christ” type of compelling). Admittedly, it may just be yet another Hollywood cash grab, with only the name of Russell Crowe being its selling point. In fact, on paper, The Pope’s Exorcist looks like a remake of The Exorcist. However, director Julius Avery was able to make this film something different. The movie delves into the deep and complex subject matters of good and evil, the role of religion in society and how one’s faith can be tested. Yet, it’s done in a way that does not come off as preachy. It actually leaves a lot up to the viewer to decide.
Russell Crowe, once again, proves just how great an actor he is. You would think the character of Father Amorth would have almost unwavering mastery of his religious doctrine, taking on the role of a heroic Catholic Jedi. But Crowe’s performance humanizes this person. While strong, Amorth was very human. He was a flawed man, but one with compassion and empathy for all that he encountered.
One scene that sticks out in my mind that shows this off is when Father Amorth and Father Esquibel take part in a confession to one another. It shows very clearly that Amorth has a great amount of guilt for something that occurred in his past but uses it as a guiding force for his battle against demons. Through this scene alone, Crowe is able to show the audience that Amorth is like them: not perfect, but able to still do great things, despite this. He makes us see the Father as a real person and not some fictional superhero.
Overall, The Pope’s Exorcist is a fantastic film. Both horror fans and people interested in spirituality should receive it well. I give it a solid four out of five stars. While it did not live up to the terror levels of films like The Taking of Deborah Logan or the original Exorcist, the movie does a magnificent job of being engaging. Russell Crowe continues to show why he is one of Hollywood’s elites, giving one of his all-time greatest performances.
With this combo of acting and having an interesting story, The Pope’s Exorcist will leave a lasting impression on the audience. It did for me.