Deliver Us from Evil is not an easy film, but it's an essential one. The Oscar-nominated documentary chronicles the horrific tale of a pedophile priest and his many victims, but its scope is more expansive. By zeroing in on the specific case of defrocked Father Oliver O'Grady, the filmmakers paint a stark and frightening picture of institutional corruption and abuse of power. But Deliver Us from Evil is never sensationalistic. It is a powerful, heartbreaking story told with consummate skill and sensitivity.
Director Amy Berg, a television news producer who did extensive coverage of the Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal, digs into the chilling saga of Father Oliver O'Grady. Once known as "Father Ollie" to his parishioners in California, the Irish native with a thick brogue and a grandfatherly appearance hardly comes across as a monster -- at least, not initially. "He was the perfect example of what you would think a priest would be," says one woman who knew him for more than 20 years. "He was the closest thing to God that we knew."
But O'Grady was also a pedophile whose crimes spanned three decades, a sex predator who charmed and manipulated his parishioners in order to rape their children. After serving less than half of a 14-year prison sentence for his crimes, O'Grady was deported to Ireland, which is where Berg and her film crew met him for a series of astonishing interviews. His admissions are made all the more horrifying by the insouciance with which he delivers them, nodding his head and grinning as he recounts how, yes, he used to get mighty aroused seeing kiddies in their underpants.
But Berg gives far greater voice to O'Grady's victims -- particularly two women and one man -- who were children when he raped them. Nancy Sloan was 10 years old in 1976 when she told her parents what Father Ollie had done to her. The parents confronted O'Grady's superior, who consequently ordered the priest to write the family a letter of apology.
So began an odyssey of deceit and cover-up. O'Grady's bishop at the time, Merlin Guilfoyle, coerced an agreement from Nancy Sloan's family; if O'Grady were sent off to a monastery -- far away from children -- the parents would not press charges. Two years later, however, Guilfoyle assigned O'Grady to another small-town parish some 50 miles away.
More molestations followed, and a familiar pattern began to emerge. O'Grady's supervisor, then-Bishop Roger Mahony (now archbishop of Los Angeles), continued the practice of enabling O'Grady's perversions. More allegations of abuse prompted the priest's reassignment to yet another parish, this time in Stockton, California. The list of victims grew -- the youngest of whom was 9 months old.
This is devastating stuff on several levels. Not only does the film provide disturbingly close access to a confessed pedophile, but Berg places O'Grady's crimes in a larger context, examining a hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church that tacitly allowed child sexual abuse, and even protected the abusers. Berg doesn't overload the doc with a surfeit of interviews, but the theologians and canon law experts whom she does employ, especially abuse victims' advocate Father Tom Doyle, offer some provocative ideas. Of particular resonance is their contention that the church's vow of celibacy inevitably leads to the monstrosities perpetrated by O'Grady and others.
This meticulously crafted documentary is certain to stoke your sense of moral outrage (at least it should), but it does so fairly. Neither didactic nor simplistic, Deliver Us from Evil lets the events and players speak for themselves through interviews, archival footage and other materials. Certain church officials are hoisted by their own petard. In a videotaped deposition, a monsignor who knew about O'Grady's problems concedes he did not see a similarity between Father O'Grady's molestation of a 10-year-old girl in 1976 with the priest's rape of a little boy more than a decade later. After all, the monsignor explains, one was with a girl -- which, according to Nancy Sloan, the monsignor attributed to a "natural curiosity" while the other was more about homosexuality.
There is a lot of suffering in Deliver Us from Evil, but it doesn't surrender to hopelessness. O'Grady's victims and their families have pain that will never go away, but they appear to be determined, resolute and inherently decent people. And their strength is inspiring.
The print is in anamorphic widescreen and with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. There is minor grain in a few scenes with natural lighting, but the overall picture quality is fine.
Viewers can choose between Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, both of which are more than adequate for the modest sound mix. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
The DVD's bonus material is terrific and does what it should -- namely, to enhance and enrich the film experience. Berg and editor/co-producer Matthew Cooke provide an excellent commentary full of fascinating anecdotes about the film shoot and post-production, especially regarding the work it took to ensure O'Grady's participation.
Clocking in at nine minutes and 24 seconds, Bible vs. Church is an interesting and creative feature. Here the filmmakers supply six apparent dichotomies between scripture and actions of the Catholic Church (openness of the church, celibacy, the affluence of archbishops, etc.) Viewers can click on each of the six examples separately or play as a whole. Cooke provides an optional audio introduction. He is joined by Berg for an optional commentary.
Well worth checking out are 11 deleted scenes that viewers can see separately or play as a whole for a 22-minute, 39-second aggregate running time. Again, Berg and Cooke offer an audio introduction and an optional commentary. With close to 170 hours of footage shot for the documentary, the filmmakers had to leave a lot of interesting and relevant material on the cutting-room floor.
A two-minute, 16-second alternate ending with John Manley, an attorney for some of the abuse victims, is of so-so value. Berg and Cooke supply optional commentary.
Rounding out the supplemental materials are previews for Lionsgate films: The US vs. John Lennon, Grizzly Man, Lord of War, Control Room, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man and Born into Brothels.
Deliver Us from Evil is challenging, disturbing and compelling, a first-rate documentary that provides a deeper understanding of the still-unresolved Catholic priest sex-abuse scandal. It is one of the most brilliant and poignant documentaries this reviewer has seen in recent years, one well worth the DVD Talk Collector Series.