Amy Berg’s galvanizing docu “Deliver Us From Evil” examines chronic pedophilia, and worse, among longtime priests. It’s hard to imagine even devout Catholics coming away from the film without a sense of rage at a religion that appears to value members of the priesthood over the well-being of children. Word-of-mouth, critical support and renewed media attention are sure to bump the pic’s profile to national and international levels, with solid prospects for theatrical and ancillary biz.
Between “The Da Vinci Code” and, now, “Deliver Us From Evil,” the Vatican is having a bad year at the movies. But unlike “Code,” Berg’s account is based on detailed reporting in presenting the dreadful history of serial sex offender Oliver O’Grady, an ex-priest now in exile in Eire. Berg uses her experience as a producer for CNN and CBS News to detail O’Grady’s story, told not only by the victims and the families but — most astonishingly — by O’Grady himself.
So harsh and damning is the pic toward the current Catholic leadership — personified by Los Angeles-based Cardinal Roger Mahony, who oversaw O’Grady’s stewardship at various central California parishes in the 1970s and ’80s, that charges the church operates “like the Mafia” sound spot-on. Such damnation is echoed by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who investigated church indifference to priest pedophilia and its protection of accused priests from law enforcement.
If “Deliver Us” can be chided for anything, it is its hackneyed use of personal portraits illustrating big topics. Gradually, the accounts of victims Nancy Sloan, Ann Jyono and Adam M. (refusing to provide his last name, despite appearing on camera) are heard, all of them in shocking detail.
It’s bad enough to hear Adam recall being forced to have sex as a boy with his trusted priest in the parish church, but what makes “Deliver Us From Evil” a genuine horror movie is hearing O’Grady recall similar incidents, yet with little outward display of shame. He shifts from a mild defensiveness — “I merely wanted to cuddle the children, because I loved them” — to a barely formed awareness of his profound mental and sexual disorder, to a thoroughly shocking conclusion: That by writing letters of apology to each of his hundreds of victims, he would also invite them all to meet with him personally for some sort of “reconciliation.”
The viewer is unambiguously meant to consider Hannah Arendt’s notion of the banality of evil writ large. Controversial pic charges that Mahony and the Vatican itself allowed the O’Grady’s behavior to continue for decades. The already well-documented case is amply laid out by Berg with a reporter’s sense of detail and clarity.
Still, the pic has a strong critical voice that feels redundant at points in its inclusion of reform-minded Catholic priest Tom Doyle. It’s enough to watch Ann Jyono’s stoic and silent father Bob heart-wrenchingly break down before Berg’s camera.
Production values and lensing exude elegance, providing the pic with a sheen several degrees above TV-scale non-fiction work. Lack of narration is a plus.
Not surprisingly, as a closing graphic notes, Berg could not convince Catholic officials to sit for her camera. For his part, O’Grady was convicted, then released from prison, and currently lives free in Ireland under church protection.