Film Review: Calvary

Director: John Michael McDonagh

Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Dylan Moran, Chris O’Dowd

Plot: Father James (Gleeson) is confronted during confessional by a member of his congregation who was abused as a child by a priest. Upon hearing the man’s intentions to kill him within a week, the priest must deal with his daughter’s attempted suicide and the local people who all have their own reasons to hate the Catholic Church.

Review: This is the second time writer/director John Michael McDonagh and star Brendan Gleeson have collaborated, the first was the classic Irish comedy-drama, The Guard. Here, they have created a much darker film that pulls no punches when looking at the tough but relevant subject matter at hand. The film is difficult to stomach in parts, but is softened somewhat by the black humour that we came to expect from the writer of The Guard. By no means does this style of humor take away from the raw anguish felt throughout.

Father James, a former heavy drinker, is a man who has turned to the Catholic Church late in life. His decision to join the church has put a strain on his relationship with his daughter (Kelly Reilly). While dealing with his daughter’s problems and the problems of his small congregation, it is his own demons that trouble him the most. He stumbles through the film attempting to help his ‘followers’ through their many issues only to have constant slurs of arrogance and racism thrown at him.

The opening confessional scene is one of the most powerful and gripping you will see all year; the opening line is probably the most shocking you will ever hear. Once the threat on his life has been put down the story drifts slightly into a whodunit mystery. Although, James believes he knows who his would-be killer is, we as an audience start to realise all of James’ parish have reasons to hate the church and in turn Father James himself.

McDonagh has become known for his writing talents and he is at his absolute best here. This is such a strong piece of work that talented actors such as Aiden Gillen (as a vile coroner), Chris O’Dowd (a troubled butcher) and Dylan Moran (the local rich snob) are willing to be cast as small roles just to be involved. Reilly is the standout in the supporting roles as a damaged but loving daughter. Make no mistake though, this is Gleeson’s film. This dominant central performance will have you pulling for his flawed but compassionate character.

From the shocking opening to the partly predictable ending, this is a film not to be missed. This could well be the best film of 2014 so far.

5/5