Judge Neal Masri examines this potent documentary of one man's childhood experience of sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest.
A story of sin, betrayal, and the power of Truth.
"I don't think I ever believed in Hell"—Former Priest and Accused Pedophile Dennis Gray
Facts of the Case
Twist of Faith is the story of Tony Comes, a firefighter from Toledo, Ohio. He is in every way a typical middle class family man. He is married. He is the father of two children. He is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a Priest. This documentary tells his story.
This quiet and contemplative documentary opens with a brief snippet of footage from a deposition of a Dennis Gray, a former priest accused of molesting young boys over the course of many years. His detached and calm demeanor belies the horrible deeds of which he is accused. Progressively more disturbing excerpts from this interview are inserted throughout the film.
After being introduced to Dennis Gray, we meet one of his victims—Tony Comes. We see family home video of the Comes family buying a new house. Tony's wife Wendy relates to the camera how, right after they moved in, they found out that Dennis Gray lived five houses down from the home that they just bought.
As Tony still resides in his childhood hometown, Gray looms over his life both in a literal and figurative sense. Tony had told his family about the childhood abuse, but remained otherwise silent until the numerous stories of abuse broke nationwide. He then went public. Tony spoke to the Bishop in Toledo and then later filed a lawsuit against the local Catholic Diocese.
The most heart-wrenching portion of the movie is a demonstration of how childhood sexual abuse ripples through the lives of its victims and beyond. Tony sits with his adorable eight-year-old daughter in his lap and his wife by his side. He then tearfully explains to his child what happened to him as a child. What's more, he has to explain that the man who did it to him lives down the street and that his daughter should never speak to him. All involved choke back tears while Tony is explaining this to his little girl. I found myself doing the same.
Filmmaker Kirby Dick (Chain Camera, Derrida) has found an amazingly eloquent and approachable subject in Tony Comes. His openness and amiable nature make him an incredibly sympathetic subject. Wendy Comes is a remarkably understanding and supportive woman. The couple provides an excellent example of how the power of a strong relationship can overcome incredible trauma. Tony and Wendy face incredible stress on their marriage throughout the course of the film. Their connection is the thread of hope that runs through a decidedly somber movie.
I was pleasantly surprised by more extras than one usually finds on a documentary DVD. There is a commentary featuring Director Kirby Dick, Producer Eddie Schmidt, and Tony and Wendy Comes recorded as a group. Much of the interview consists of the director asking Tony questions and Tony answering. Wendy Comes and Eddie Schmidt speak up occasionally. Dick offers some insight into his filmmaking decisions and Tony gives a bit more background on his story. The commentary has a quiet and thoughtful feel, much like the movie. There are considerable gaps in the commentary where no one speaks.
Among the six deleted scenes, there is a powerful sequence featuring a support group of numerous survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of Priests. The impact of seeing all these lives ravaged by abuse is quite sobering. An audio track of a song written by Tony Comes is also included. As in the film, Tony wears his emotions on his sleeve as he sings his composition "Far and Away." The set is rounded out by a ten-minute Q&A following the premier of the film and a text biography of Kirby Dick.
As is the case with most HBO documentaries, audio and video are well done. The Dolby Surround track gets the job done with clear dialogue and accentuation of music. Video is above par for a documentary. Sharpness is good with only a few source concerns on some news/deposition pieces transferred from video.
Twist of Faith makes clear that childhood sexual abuse is, above all, an act of theft. Dennis Gray stole Tony's childhood, innocence, and trust. The fact that Tony has turned out to be such a caring and strong family man says a lot about the human spirit and our power to heal. This is not a film that I expected to find inspiring. I'm glad I was wrong.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The vast majority of Catholic priests are dedicated and decent men of faith. It is a shame that a small number of monsters have tainted their ranks.
There is perhaps no current issue as incendiary as the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked Catholicism. The elements here—religion, sex, cover ups, child molestation, and lawsuits—are a perfect storm of controversy. The subject of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church wouldn't seem to lend itself to thoughtful and quiet exploration. Miraculously, Twist of Faith offers exactly that.
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• Commentary track with Director Kirby Dick, Producer Eddie Schmidt, and Tony and Wendy Comes
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