Calvary (2014, dir. John Michael McDonagh)

calvary

In the name of the Father.

Forgiveness is a tricky business especially when religion is thrown into the mix. For Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) everyday duties amid his often troubled, sometimes inexplicable, parishioners, take a sinister turn when, during confession, one of them tells the Priest that he will be murdered within the week. Father Lavalle is instructed to put his affairs in order because killing a Priest, and on a Sunday, “That’ll be a good one.” Given John Michael McDonagh’s last cinematic outing, you would be forgiven for expecting a punchline; The Guard was blackly comic, even laugh-out-loud chucklesome, and here – reunited again with leading man, Gleeson – one would expect much of the same. There are comic moments, however, the tone of Calvary is much darker; still amusing but angry.

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This tragically woven satire has much to say about a country; fractured as it is amid financial ruin and governed, in part, by a disjointed religious institution as well as commenting on the themes of life, death, and faith – what is to be saved and what is to be damned. Using topical issues which have dogged the Catholic Church for decades, this is a who-will-do-it as opposed to a who-dunnit which unfolds like a subversive Western, rural Ireland an unlikely, yet perfect substitute for America’s Wild West with Gleeson as the ‘good’ hero attempting to save the deeply flawed town from themselves and, in doing so, himself from the lone gunman. Among the cast of characters there is the quirky atheist doctor (Aiden Gillen), the supercilious, smarmy banker (Dylan Moran), the cynical, religiously lapsed pub licensee (Pat Shortt), the imprisoned serial killer (Domhnall Gleeson), the cuckolded butcher (Chris O’Dowd), and even a village idiot (Killian Scott); all of whom Father Lavalle tries to steer onto the path of righteousness or dissuade from the life-choices they insist on pursuing, in addition to comforting his own self-destructive daughter (Kelly Reilly), before his day of reckoning. These people are deeply flawed, fallible, clearly as bad as each other and by-and-large vile products of the world they live in.

calvary3It is a film that re-envisions the Stations of the Cross albeit through a Parish Priest in County Sligo and while it is not quite perfect – the script meanders a little – Calvary is wonderful; original, modest, and bleakly dramatic with an outstanding performance by Brendan Gleeson who can convey so much with so very little; a big-bear of a gentle man who wears the cassock and clerical collar with aplomb – it is satsifying to see a decent Priest depicted, it feels like it has been far too long The film’s denouement is dramatic, grand, even operatic in scale, some may argue that it is misjudged but, gut-wrenching as it is, there is no other way it could have ended. With its biting satire, surprising comedy and sheer contemptible anger, Calvary delivers a body-blow that resonates long after the credits roll.

Out on DVD, Blu-ray and available via VoD on 11th August 2014

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