2 stars (out of four)
"The Exorcism of Emily Rose," much of which unfolds in the least photogenic courtroom in the history of courtroom drama, reminds you how strikingly similar Laura Linney and Campbell Scott are on screen. They're similar sorts of fine actors, whatever their surroundings. Both have big, piercing eyes and jawlines you can trace at 40 paces; both are stage-trained and favor a crisp, clipped, slightly heightened way with dialogue; both convey a slight air of imperiousness, and also of watchfulnessas if they have the edge on a situation they cannot trust. They're very interesting and not just in the right roles; often, they redeem routine ones.
Which brings us to the movie at hand, director Scott Derrickson's mild-to-moderate scare picture about an apparent demonic possession, the Catholic priest on trial (the exorcism didn't work out) and the horrific-but-safely-within-PG-13 details of the title teenager's final days.
Linney plays Erin Bruner, an attorney assigned to defend Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson, of "In the Bedroom"), whose archdiocese-sanctioned exorcism of a young college student (Jennifer Carpenter) ended in unholy disasterand, for the forlorn priest, a charge of negligent homicide. Bruner, all business and gunning for partnership in her firm, calls herself an agnostic. She's up against prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Scott, in a tense little moustache), a full-on, churchgoing man of faith trying to nail Father Moore and paint the late Emily Rose as a woman prone to epileptic seizures, construed by the girl's family as signs of possession.
No one expects a film with the word "exorcism" in its title to be funny, and the devil knows this one isn't. Yet its sharpest scenea moment or two, reallyhas Linney and Scott being called before the judge (Mary Beth Hurt) and doing the legal equivalent of what the jazzbos call "trading fours." Finally these two get to juice up the formulaic script by director Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman.
The screenplay is based on a real-life case in the Catholic-intensive region of Bavaria, where in 1976 young Anneliese Michel underwent an exorcism. In the courtroom two years later a tape recording of the rites left spectators shaken and sobbing. It's compelling source material. But "Emily Rose" doesn't bring any particular style or tone to its rehashing of courtroom or horror conventions. As written and directed the tale contains few wrinkles.
I don't know, maybe I'm just not into demonic possession. I'm no fan of William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" either; I suspect it was a big hit because nobody had seen anything that vile in a big-studio R-rated film before, laden (and, rating-wise, protected) by so much Catholic iconography. It was a dread machine, and nothing takes away an audience's better judgment than a film that instills a pervasive, 10-ton aura of dread.
The dread aura in "Emily Rose," by contrast, weighs about 15 ounces. It's hard to get riled up one way or the other by a film about an exorcist who is forced, cruelly and relentlessly, to introduce one flashback after another. Wilkinson's a fine actor, but at times you can almost see a little thought balloon above his head with the words: "Exposition: It's what's for dinner."
'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'
Directed by Scott Derrickson; screenplay by Paul Harris Boardman and Derrickson; edited by Jeff Betancourt; cinematography by Tom Stern; production design by David Brisbin; music by Christopher Young; produced by Paul Harris Boardman, Beau Flynn, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg and Trip Vinson. A Sony Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:54. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, including intense/frightening sequences and disturbing images)
Erin Bruner - Laura Linney
Father Moore - Tom Wilkinson
Ethan Thomas - Campbell Scott
Emily Rose - Jennifer Carpenter
Judge Brewster - Mary Beth HurtCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times