Film-Forward Review: [DELIVER US FROM EVIL]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Convicted pedophile Oliver O'Grady
Photo: Lionsgate

Rotten Tomatoes
Showtimes & Tickets
Enter Zip Code:

Written & directed by: Amy Berg.
Produced by: Berg, Frank Donner, Hermas Lassalle & Matthew Cooke.
Directors of photography: Jacob Kusk & Jens Schlosser.
Edited by: Cooke.
Music by: Mick Harvey & Joseph Arthur.
Released by: Lionsgate.
Country of Origin: USA. 101 min. Not Rated.

A superb documentary. Unusual for an activist film, this is a thoroughly researched piece of investigative journalism that is passionate about its subject, the decades of sexual abuse of children by priests and the continuing cover-up by the Catholic Church.

Debut feature documentarian Amy Berg spent years producing segments for CNN and CBS News before becoming frustrated both by the limited time available for investigative reports and that the networks considered abuse by Catholic priests to be old news. Combined with riveting on-camera interviews that demonstrate the pay-off for her persistence in developing a trusting rapport with the perpetrator, his victims and their families, she doggedly tracks down documents and sources, an approach more typical of print journalism (such as The Boston Globe in its relentless pursuit of that city’s sex abuse scandal).

The Los Angeles Archdiocese’s accusation that the film is an “anti-church hit piece” is not supported. Berg pulls much evidence together into a chronological narrative of a single priest’s destructive path through Central California, all within a devastating look at the institution that let the abuse go on and on. She then expands the context of the scandals throughout the United States (by glimpses of newspaper headlines) and provides further perspectives through interviews with a psychologist, lawyer, and theologian who are working with victims. They explain the training, authoritarian structure, and internal politics of the church, conveying an institution that encourages a culture of secrecy.

The centerpiece of the film are excerpts of extensive interviews with defrocked priest Oliver O'Grady in Ireland, where he was deported after serving a seven-year prison term for these molestations and now living on some sort of church annuity. Startlingly, with his Irish lilt, he is virtually a ringer for Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way, the very model of an avuncular parish priest. Particularly stomach-turning is seeing this deceptively genial old man freely wander around children’s playgrounds. He vaguely talks about having gone to a counselor, by rote drones 12-step terms, and mentions the untoward contact he experienced from a priest when he was a child. It is eerie how similar he is in language, obliviousness, and justifications as the priest in the news recently, identified as ex-Congressman Mark Foley’s alleged abuser.

Legal documents and correspondence are Berg’s smoking guns, including police records and filmed depositions from the mid-1980’s, and copies of letters and agreements with law enforcement in which the church promised to keep O’Grady in a monastery and restrict his access to children. The documentary explicitly connects the political ambitions of Bishop Roger Mahony, who oversaw O’Grady’s Stockton diocese, before Mahony was promoted to archbishop of Los Angeles. Incredibly, O’Grady gets promoted and put in charge of schools, supervising religious education, and organizing field trips that he seems to have set up like honey traps for kids. Some accusations of a sexual relationship with a mother to get to her son are also flung around, but that angle is comparatively mangled. While the press attention has been on the millions of dollars that victims have demanded in damages from the church, the institutional pattern of the hierarchy’s response is identical across the country and destroys any sense of coincidence or happenstance.

The comprehensive interviews with the families, though repetitive, very clearly describe how Father O’Grady, step by step and over time, honed in on trusting families and gained their confidence. Their pain and overwhelming guilt is in palpable contrast to O’Grady’s affability. Deeply religious, they were all honored to have a priest frequently stay over in their home and were proud of his attention to their children. So they feel abjectly betrayed on several levels, compounded by the church hierarchy’s denials of misconduct. There is an odd strain when O’Grady offers to meet with his victims for some kind of apology that they are not really anxious to confront, but he later withdraws those invitations at the insistence of his family. So the only target the victims have left is the church that ignored his deeds and helped O’Grady perpetrate damage for decades on perhaps dozens of children. However, the closing segments are too theatrical as Berg accompanies two victims to deliver a letter to the new pope, Benedict XVI, in Rome. It seems to be a publicity gimmick to successfully attract press attention, but also an understandable technique to keep their issues in the public eye.

This emotional film is very important in showing pedophiles tend less to be the easily identifiable creeps in fictional movies like Little Children and more the genial guy in a position of trust, as Mysterious Skin so movingly visualized. As this documentary primarily consists of interviews and photographs, it may have the same searing impact with home viewing, though its explosive content could keep it off public television. Nora Lee Mandel
November 3, 2006



Archive of Previous Reviews

Contact us