UK Release: April 11th 2014
Following on from ‘The Guard’, John Michael McDonagh’s ‘CALVARY’ is a murder mystery which follows a different vain of being more a ‘’who’s gonna do it?’’, then a conventional ‘’who’s done it?’’. Set to a incredible Irish island backdrop the film has Catholic priest Brendan Gleeson (how marriage of work with McDonagh is just something), taking a Sunday box confession section, only to be approached by a member of his parish who has been abused as a young child by a fellow Catholic priest who recently passed away. Instead of wanting to kill the this ‘bad’ priest, he decided to want to kill a ‘good’ one of Brendan Gleeson so it can raise more attention to the abuse which has gone on in the history of the church. The killer gives Gleeson’s Father James one week to get his ‘’to get his affairs in order’’, to live and in the killers eyes, follow the idea that the Church is a vessel for god’s forgiveness, but there cover-up of the sex abuse, by the morals of a civilised human being is unforgivable. Instead of a getting the police involved, Father James uses the time to connect and council his daughter (Kelly Reilly – one of the best support actress’ at the moment), who’s come over from a recent suicide attempt as well as attend to his rural parish and community (as he believes he is responsible to his parish and not to his self-preservation, on the pretence that this killer might have changed their minds.
On his final week the Father meets with members of his congregation (all of which are wrote around the idea that they want absolution without the reckoning). Along the way he meets a serial killer (Domhnall Gleeson – Brendan’s son in real life) who half-jokingly tells him that he has forgot where he buried one of his bodies at, tries to reason with a adulterous couple who brush him off completely, and talk to a wealthy man (Dylan Moran), who thinks he can buy himself into heaven. Along the way he also hears from the villages Atheist (Aiden Gillen) and the local butcher of Chris O’Dowd. Admittedly everyone is drawn as the possible killer (again itsa ‘’Who’s gonna do it’’?). What the film does great with this is how they underplay the whole Christ connections in Gleeson ‘Good’ priest and also how McDonaugh (also writer here) plays up to the character feelings. There is no lecture on the meditation of faith, instead the emotions give weight to the themes because faith is a incredibly person thing. It relates itself to someone’s soul, salvation and damnation. Because of this, the ide of characters grappling with their fate and the role of God in their lives is powerful. Its a bloody hard thing to do as McDonagh has brought a maturity and intellect to handle the topic respectfully without being stodgy, dogmatic or preachy (no pun intended). I also like the approach on the fact that even if the church is presenting itself as something for people to come to be forgiven of their sins, and if any right-thinking person believes is unforgivable, then is salvation even possible?
Acting wise Gleeson has never been so good. The range of emotions he goes through is very impressive indeed, and what is more impressive is how he is never showy when Father James is at its most fragile and frustrated state. Everyone act extremely well, playing a lot up to their personal strengths. Kelly Reilly, Chris O’Dowd and Aiden Gillen are the real standouts from the general secondary performances. ‘Calvary’ is not an easy film to watch, the opening lines of the film will cause shock to audiences, and however it is not a punishable harsh one either. The elements of black comedy (somewhat of a hallmark to McDonaugh’s films) does help break up what is essentially a conversation about the demanding meditation of faith, the limits of forgiveness, the need for compassion, a chance of absolution and inevitable reckoning. The elements of the black comedy might not work as it is rare to see it being used in a film like this. I didn’t personally mind it as it was contextualised, however I can see criticism on the idea that it might take away from some of the characters convictions. Another point must be made on Larry Smith’s cinematography, not once does the beauty of the Irish isles fades away, even when the Father’s faith begins to waiver. It is also acting as a reminder that damnation isn’t inevitable even when repentance seems impossible. Ultimately this is a very interesting film which will demand several watch’s to really understand what it is trying to say. I can imagine film students and theorists will be able to come up with their owner deeper analysis on the film then the thoughts I have brought here. I personally find the film one of the better ones to come out in 2014 and it is something which might have allowed McDonaugh to graduate into a new maturity as a filmmaker. Not that I’m saying anything bad about ‘The Guard’, they are both terrific.