Calvary: Movie Review
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, M Emmet Walsh, Dylan Moran, Domnhall Gleeson
Director: John Michael McDonagh
The sins of the Catholic church hang heavy over this drama from the team that brought us the deliciously dark The Guard.
Re-teaming up are McDonagh and Gleeson - this time around, Brendan Gleeson is Father James Lavelle, a priest in a small Irish community near Sligo. As the film opens, he's taking confession - and the very first words he hears point to the horror that's been blighting the Catholic Church for years - abuse.
Listening in, Father James is told that he will have to pay for the sins of the Fathers before him with his life in seven days' time because killing a good man is more shocking. So, with no apparent idea of who is behind this threat, Father James is forced down a path he'd never expected as he tries to deal solace to his parishioners while wondering which of them is behind the threat.
Calvary is a devilishly dark piece with humour as black as they come.
Gleeson is absolutely astounding as the priest, mixing calmness with serenity and compassion as the deadline draws nearer; he's a man who puts his people first despite their problems. And in and around Sligo, there are a fair few of them - domestic abuse, drug abuse, a banker who's part of the economic rot, depression, suicide, loss of faith, a doctor who's haunted by one moment; the list goes on - and may be a little hard for some to believe such an underbelly exists.
For Father James, there's the omni-present battle with his own demons in the shape of the bottle and a daughter who's recovering from a suicide attempt (Kelly Reilly, who does little), all reminders of a life before he came to the church.
But it's Gleeson who gives this life of quiet questioning and frustration an empathetic edge from under a beard and world weary eyes that sparkle with tolerance. As the Sunday of his showdown nears, Gleeson brings a subtle shift in character to the fore as the villagers begin to turn on him, unaware of his plight. Moran and O'Dowd also deserve praise for turning in darker performances than perhaps you'd normally credit them for.
However, this is not a bleak film even if the central tenet may be one of the darkest. Gallows humour and deadpan humour litter the script in a most unexpected way, with odd lines proving to be the relief needed. For those of a Catholic bent, the name Calvary won't be a lost choice, being the place Jesus was crucified and the parallels are certainly here for all to see as Father James faces his long dark night of the soul.
Calvary is a haunting piece of cinema, a film that rises high on Gleeson's shoulders - it's certainly one of the finest character releases of the year and stays with you long after the silent credits have rolled.
While the issues explored are laced with a darker humour than perhaps you'd expect, this moving piece hits its highs in one solitary moment where Father James says there's been too much time spent on sin and not enough time on virtue.
It's a bold statement but one which gives this Calvary more than enough powerful reasons for you to see.