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Rosary Murders, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"Even a Hail Mary Wouldn't Do It Any Good"
2 stars

Didn't set either the box office or critical approval on fire.

Coincidentally enough the Samuel Goldwyn Company has released within a week of each other the Detroit-set serial-killer tale The Rosary Murders and the U.K.-set spiritual drama A Prayer for the Dying, both of which feature a Catholic priest hearing a confession by a killer but are thus constricted in reporting such to the police under the longtime seal of the confessional guaranteeing the confessor's anonymity. But while the latter movie was excellent and psychologically intriguing with an assortment of three-dimensional characters with superb performances by Mickey Rourke, Bob Hoskins and Alan Bates, The Rosary Murders, adapted from a novel with a script by co-writer/director Fred Walton and the best-selling crime author Elmore Leonard, is mostly routine stuff without much in the way of intriguing elements. It starts out reasonably well, though, with the first two killings cannily staged: a bedridden older priest is done in by an unseen assailant in a hospital where we see only a mid-level shot of the murderer closing the door and then a cut to a nurse entering thereafter and horrified at what age sees which the audience isn't made privy to; a day later a nun enters her apartment at night, and the camera then cuts to an exterior long shot where we see a shadowy figure moving across a curtained window towards her, and the morning after we see her nude corpse in a bloody bathtub with a rosary that wasn't hers wrapped around her wrist, the same kind of rosary we later find out was on the dead priest's wrist. Thus far Walton, who gave us the underrated 1979 thriller When a Stranger Calls, envelops us in the story very eerily while never overdoing it - he leaves us to reimagine these horrors in our minds so our fertile imaginations can fill in the disturbing details. Donald Sutherland stars as Father Robert Koesler, who knew both victims and who the police think can help them given his linkage. Robert is the priest on duty who hears the killer's confession in the church, with the culprit saying he blames the church for his actions because they supposedly caused the death of his sixteen-year-old daughter three years ago, which is a major miscalculation because by hearing his distinct voice we know it can't be any of the male characters introduced thus far, which nullifies the proceedings as a whodunit. The story ultimately comes down to a whydunit, and when the final twist is revealed it's hardly revelatory - it might as well be an item on a grocery list that's crossed off. (Say what you will about the failed cinematic adaptation of Umberto Eco's worldwide smash book The Name of the Rose, but at least it had occasional verve and was visually interesting.) Direly lacking atmosphere and suspense, The Rosary Murders is egregious and enervating, lacking both the nerve-jangling intensity of Walton's When a Stranger Calls and astute widescreen compositions of his fine slasher-flick spoof April Fool's Day; it needs compression and propulsion, and all Walton can serve up is one tired, negligently shaped scene after another that fails to build to anything particular. The people populating the screen are of no interest, with Sutherland underplaying to the point of inertia (this priest never manages to come alive) and Charles Durning, as the intolerant head pastor, badly overacting (there's never a moment when we're glad he's around); the dialogue is perfunctory to the extreme; the theological aspects specious to say the very least; and the implausibility factor sky-high, especially with the killer displaying top-notch marksmanship with a silenced pistol from far away against Detroit's finest that only a championship-winning Marine sniper could possibly accomplish. Then again, this is a movie that takes place in and was filmed in Detroit that has more black American inhabitants than any major metropolitan area by far, and yet not a single one is seen in either the interior or exterior shots. Not a one. Not a single one. Maybe like the killer, in this warped movie's sense of view they're just best left unseen for the most part.

Insipid and entirely forgettable.

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originally posted: 12/22/20 12:36:29
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  04-Sep-1987 (R)



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