‘Deliver Us From Evil’: Monster Movie, By Kurt Loder

A priest from Hell tells his terrible tale in a horrifying documentary.

Also: Truman Capote returns — again — in 'Infamous.'

“Deliver Us From Evil” is an explosive documentary about a depravity so gross, it leaves you appalled and infuriated that the men who enabled it have never been called to account. It’s the story of a Roman Catholic priest, Oliver O’Grady, who for 20 years raped and sodomized untold scores of children who had been entrusted to his spiritual care — one of them a baby girl only nine months old. Whenever his predations started to become known, O’Grady was quietly transferred by the Catholic Church’s California hierarchy to another parish — and then another, and another. None of these congregations were informed about their new priest’s hideous proclivities, and they were thus unaware that they’d officially been selected as a fresh source of victims for this ordained predator.

In a picture that’s filled with astonishments, the most astonishing presence in “Deliver Us From Evil” is O’Grady himself, who appears on camera at length, admitting his crimes and even describing them, often with a disconnected smile on his lips and a rote twinkle in his eyes. A native of Ireland, he has the sort of ingratiating Gaelic charm that was once common in Hollywood movie priests — the kind who would warmly mentor wayward youths and attempt to guide them away from the path of delinquency. We immediately understand why parents, and especially children, would like him. But as we watch this man liltingly recount his story, it quickly becomes apparent who, or what, he really is.

“This will be the most honest confession of my life,” O’Grady says at the beginning of the film. But his eerie detachment from his monstrous acts is chilling. He talks vaguely about “a major imbalance” in his life, about “these awful tendencies.” As for his victims: “Basically, what I want to say to them is, it should not have happened.” He is concerned about the damage he may have inflicted on the Catholic Church itself, but not overly: “What we need to do as a church,” he says, “is acknowledge our good days and our bad days.” At one point, he pens a letter to be sent to some victims whose names he remembers, inviting them to meet with him for some hazy healing purpose. He’s very keen on this, and he actually sends the letter out. “Godspeed,” he says.

To represent O’Grady’s many victims, director Amy Berg, a former CNN and CBS News producer, persuaded three of them — Nancy Sloan, Ann Jyono and a man identified only as “Adam M.” — to appear in the film. They’re grown up now, but their lives are still crippled by the long-ago horrors to which they were subjected. For them, in the beginning, O’Grady was simply the lovable “Father Ollie.” Not for long, though. Looking back, Nancy says, “My last memory of Ollie is of severe pain, before blacking out.” Ann, who’s now 39, longs to marry and have children, but is unsure whether she’ll ever be capable of doing so. The church has never offered her condolence or consolation, and so, she says, “It’s still not over.” Adam remembers being delivered to a visit with O’Grady by his trusting parents, and being told by the priest as he sodomized him, “Why would your parents bring you here if they didn’t want you to do this?” Unsurprisingly, since his life has been emotionally stalled ever since, Adam remains fiercely embittered: “I get so angry just knowing that guy’s alive.”

Also still drawing breath, we are asked to note, is Cardinal Roger Mahony, O’Grady’s former bishop in Stockton, California. O’Grady says he once told Mahony about what he calls “this awful problem that I had,” and that it was Mahony — then in line to become the Archbishop of Los Angeles, a position he now holds — who shuttled him around from parish to parish, thus tamping down, at least temporarily, another embarrassing pedophile-priest scandal. Mahony denies any knowledge of O’Grady’s activities. (In courtroom-deposition footage from 1997, the cardinal says, “He was not a priest I would golf with, or have dinner with.”) However, according to The New York Times, there are now more than 500 civil suits related to sexual abuse by priests that are pending in Los Angeles County, some of them charging Mahony as being complicit in cover-ups. And William Hodgman, a deputy prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, which has long been trying to pry relevant records out of the archdiocese, told the Times he thinks O’Grady’s statements in “Deliver Us From Evil” (in which Hodgman also appears) “will fuel ongoing consideration as to whether Cardinal Mahoney and others engaged in criminal activity.”

Oliver O’Grady’s 20-year career as a child-molesting priest came to an end in 1993, when he was arrested for abusing two young boys. He was tried and convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Predictably, he served only seven, and then was released and deported back to Ireland (where his sexual pathology once again went unannounced). He lives there today, roaming the streets in unsupervised freedom, supported by a church pension.

Rising up in lonely determination against O’Grady and his apparently proliferating ilk is a very different kind of priest named Father Tom Doyle, a scholar who has damaged his clerical career by becoming an advocate within the church for victims of sexual abuse by priests. Doyle says he once wrote a report predicting a “national crisis” over the issue, but that the report was buried by his superiors. He thinks that part of the problem is the Roman Catholic tradition of sexual celibacy for priests — a requirement he says has no basis either in the Bible or in canon law. (He amusingly notes what may have been the original motivation for the practice: unmarried priests, having no families to inherit their worldly goods, would leave them instead to the church.)

Since priests who attack children also debase the faith itself, the need for institutional reform of the sort called for by Doyle would seem urgent, especially considering the number of lawsuits piling up. But when Doyle leads O’Grady’s three grown victims to Rome to petition the pope for simple acknowledgement of the wrongs done to them, they are turned away by Vatican guards. This deep reluctance by the Catholic Church to confront such a serious problem sends an ominous message — both to the Catholic faithful, who feel betrayed and abandoned, and to men like Oliver O’Grady, of whom there are presumably more than a few. Asked at one point what went through his mind when he found himself alone with a helpless child, O’Grady says, “This was an opportunity to be sexual with him. Because God knows when I’d get to do it again.”

‘Infamous’: Tru Life, Take Two

Arriving almost exactly one year after the release of director Bennett Miller’s Oscar-winning “Capote,” this new movie — which covers the same period and events in the life of the late writer Truman Capote — obviously bears an awkward burden. The director, Douglas McGrath, says he learned of the existence of a script for Miller’s picture shortly after completing his own, and that he started shooting a few months after Miller did. Warner Independent, the releasing company, had little choice but to hold back McGrath’s movie until now.

Had there been no “Capote,” “Infamous” might well have drawn much of the critical praise lavished on the earlier film. It might still. The story is essentially the same: Truman Capote, celebrated novelist and short-story writer, and a glittering (and very gay) denizen of New York high society, travels to the remote farming community of Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959 to write about an obscure murder — the vicious slaying of a family of four — for The New Yorker. With the help of his lifelong friend, the novelist Harper Lee, the flamboyant writer insinuates himself among the locals, conducting extensive interviews during which he takes no notes, instead writing them down later from memory. When the killers — two drifters named Perry Smith and Dick Hickock — are captured, Capote befriends them, growing especially close to Smith, on whom he develops a sexual fixation. Lawyers appeal their initial conviction, unsuccessfully, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. By this point, Capote has decided to turn his long New Yorker piece into a book. But he needs an ending — and it can only be the execution of Smith and Hickock. When they are finally hanged, in 1965, the book, “In Cold Blood” — trumpeted by Capote as a new literary form, the “non-fiction novel” — is quickly published. Its resounding success inflates the author’s already considerable celebrity, but the best-seller wealth it brings also destroys him as a writer.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s indelible performance in the title role of “Capote,” for which he won an Academy Award, is a very hard act to follow. But the less widely-known English actor Toby Jones, who plays Capote here, bears a truly uncanny resemblance to the author (he’s closer to Capote’s diminutive five-foot-two-inch height, for one thing), and he creates his own striking take on the man’s manipulative, gossipy charm. In the role of Harper Lee (played in “Capote” by Catherine Keener, who was nominated for an Oscar), Sandra Bullock, who surprised detractors with her prickly performance in the 2004 “Crash,” is surprising once again. She’s even more self-effacing than Keener (after a while, you almost forget she’s Sandra Bullock), and nearly as effective in conveying Lee’s recessive watchfulness and her conflicted friendship with Capote.

Daniel Craig submerges his star power in the part of Perry Smith, and while he doesn’t have the doe-eyed soulfulness that Clifton Collins Jr. brought to the role in “Capote” (Craig has been fitted with brown contact lenses to go with his black-dyed hair), he does invest the character with a murderer’s dangerous unpredictability. Lee Pace may be too good-looking to muster the knuckleheaded brio with which Mark Pellegrino instilled the character of Dick Hickock in the earlier film; and Jeff Daniels is maybe a little too well-fed for the part of Kansas lawman Alvin Dewey (a role to which Chris Cooper, a Midwesterner himself, brought a convincingly hard-bitten country demeanor). But their performances add new emotional colors to the familiar story, which is now slightly different in significant ways.

McGrath’s film is even more intently concerned with Capote’s flawed character than the previous movie was, and it gives more weight to Harper Lee’s objection to her friend’s concept of a “non-fiction novel.” Bringing the techniques of fiction — the creation of structured scenes and unknowable interior monologues — to a true-life story, she says, will result in fiction no matter what he wants to call it. And indeed, we see Capote making unlikely assertions (he claims that Smith “said he loved me, and always had”) and spiking his book with outright fabrications (writing that Smith had apologized for his crimes before mounting the steps to the gallows). As one critic wrote in Esquire at the time, “By insisting that ‘every word’ of his book is true, he has made himself vulnerable to those readers who are prepared to examine seriously such a sweeping claim.”

“Infamous” also explores Capote’s gaudy life as a Manhattan socialite in more detail than Bennett Miller’s picture did. We see him in the early ’60s on an endless round of dining and drinking (and learning to dance the Twist) with a circle of wealthy, middle-aged women for whom he serves as an amusing confidante. (The preening ladies are played with perfect, tiresome swellegance by Sigourney Weaver, Hope Davis, Isabella Rossellini and Juliet Stevenson.) Capote’s poodling after these purposeless women did him no good later on — they turned on him after he caricatured them in a short story, and froze him out of the social whirl that had become his life. The offending story was part of a long-talked-about new book called “Answered Prayers,” but Capote became too wrecked by drink and drugs ever to finish it. “Infamous” memorably foreshadows this downward spiral in its final scene. It’s a movie that deserves to be considered not just in comparison to the excellent “Capote,” but on its own merits, which are substantial.

 
— Kurt Loder

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