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Alex Gibney offers at least some answers in his typically trenchant documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, which gets the balance of sensationalism (to make you frothing mad) and sobriety (to make you focus on the underlying connections) just right. He opens with the story of Murphy’s victims, which I’d describe as nightmarish if not for the fact that the “ravenous wolf” that prowled among the beds of sleeping children—none of whom knew if this was the night they’d be touched—was real. He was a cunning predator, too. He gravitated toward students whose parents didn’t know sign language and so had a tougher time communicating what few back then—in the fifties, sixties, and seventies—had the words for. None of the now-middle-aged victims break down on-camera, but even without the celebrity voices (Jamey Sheridan, Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, John Slattery), you’d know how to read their gestures. Meanwhile, you look at the photos of Father Murphy and discern nothing.

Bit by bit, the canvas widens to show a priest named Walsh to whom the boys confided and who notified his superiors—and wider still to include the bishops and archbishops and cardinals, until Gibney arrives at the Vatican, which Mussolini made a country in return for the pope’s turning the other cheek to his fascism. It’s at the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”—which at one time oversaw the Inquisition—where claims of molestation went to die.

The film names men whose inaction remains shamefully uncriminalized. But more important than who is “why.” Here, enlightened priests and ex-priests shed insight on the Lifestyles of the Anointed and Faux Celibate, some of whom (pals of popes) were outright gangsters. Beyond the Mafia-like code of silence, it comes down to this: The guys at the top reserved their compassion for priests like Father Murphy in the belief that the boys were young and would get over it. No one of true faith will get over Maxima Mea Culpa.

Christopher Plummer grew up idolizing John Barrymore as both a ham of genius and a self-destructive lush. He managed to arrest his own downward spiral, but in 1997 had a chance to channel Barrymore’s in William Luce’s play Barrymore. Revived in 2010, it’s now a dandy film directed by Erik Canuel. It takes place in a theater in which the ravaged, ruined alcoholic rehearses for a comeback that will never come—all while boozing, declaiming Shakespeare, and trading insults with an offstage prompter. God, I love Plummer’s performance—the twiddling fingers, the tipsy sway of the head, the reverberating roar, as well as the pathos of a man who can’t stop acting long enough to hear the cry of his own soul. The best part is last: Plummer as Barrymore as Richard III—raising goosebumps and, I’m almost sure, the dead.

Anna Karenina
Directed by Joe Wright.
Universal Pictures. R.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
Directed by Alex Gibney.
HBO Documentary Films. NR.

Barrymore
Directed by Erik Canuel
Independent Pictures. NR.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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