Retro Review: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Movies have always challenged us and given us unique perspectives on things we didn’t consider. Some of the greatest arguments of our time have been fought out on the silver screen. From abortion to evolution, these memorable debates are powerful and always deliver both sides of the story. Emily Rose’s story is one of those debates.

Inspired by a true story, Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) is put on trial for the negligent homicide of 19-year old Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). The priest’s claim is that Emily had been possessed by the devil and that an exorcism had to be performed to release the devil’s grasp on the girl. The young girl died.

Defending Moore the priest is rising courtroom star Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) who has a difficulty believing the priest’s story at the beginning. The prosecuting attorney (Campbell Scott), is a devote Methodist who has to present the scientific side of the case and debunk the priest’s claims.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is a hard film to get your head around. The film is smart, creepy, compelling and has a tasty argument to send to trial but why didn’t it hit home for me.

As the film progressed I often found myself remembering scenes from the 1960 classic “Inherit the Wind” where a teacher is put on trial for teaching evolution in a devote religious system. The film was a blood-boiler as both sides of creationism and evolution were debated in fiery detail. It is still one of the best courtroom films ever made.

I think the problem I had with “Emily Rose” was that I found the courtroom scenes in the film to be rudimentary and photographed rather dully. After seeing countless court scenes on TV and film it was hard to get into this one even if the case was intriguing. There was no passion in the court proceedings but just seemed to be a rigorous game.

This lack of passion in an intriguing case reminded me of the controversial 1989 TV movie “Roe vs. Wade” where a pregnant mother (Holly Hunter) wants to have an abortion in Texas, where the procedure is illegal. The film itself had a good argument but the film itself is heavily flawed and never is each side of the case fairly represented. Especially the prosecution since the film is biased to one side. I felt the same was evident in “Emily Rose”.

To counter-measure the court, you have quite excellent flashback sequences that can be quite unnerving and often stray us away from the factual case. The flashbacks give more meaning to the priest’s case while stealing the audience away from believing the other side of the story.

Even if the story isn’t presented as powerful as it could have been I did like the performances of both Linney and Wilkinson. Newcomer Jennifer Carpenter “no-holds-barred” contortionist performance as Emily Rose is jarring and brilliant. I liked Carpenter but found that the filmmakers let her scenes get way over the top in portions.

I think the film can best be described as “Inherit the Wind” meets “The Exorcist”. Even though the film is probably not what you would expect I wished it was more powerful and delivered a more even handed debate.

3 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer

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