2014, dir: John Michael McDonagh
The festive season is in full swing. Loved ones come together, gifts are exchanged and it’s the perfect opportunity for making peace with those who you have wronged. Needless to say, it’s a special time for a lot of people. That’s why I thought it would be the perfect time to watch the latest dark comedy from John Michael McDonaugh (The Guard, Ned Kelly), Calvary. Yes, it’s not exactly a festive film and the subject at hand won’t make you break out in to a cheerful song. I just needed a witty introduction.
Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges, 28 Days Later) stars as Father James, a priest situated in the small Irish coastal town of Easkey. During confession, a parishioner admits he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a child. Although trying to help, Father James is told that he will be killed the following Sunday because it would send out a stronger message to the Catholic Church to kill a good priest, as opposed to one who has done wrong. Hearing such news, Father James sets out to come to terms with his potential death. To complicate matters, he is visited by his estranged and troubled daughter Fiona, played by Kelly Reilly (Eden Lake, Sherlock Holmes). Not only that, but Father James has to deal with a variety of spiritual and personal battles with his parishioners and other locals including the atheistic Dr. Harte, played by Aiden Gillen (The Wire, Blitz), wealthy and arrogant Michael Fitzgerald, played by Dylan Moran (Shaun of the Dead, Notting Hill) and Jack Brennan, the sharp tongued local butcher, played by Chris O’Dowd (Cuban Fury, Bridesmaids) who is suspected to be physically abusing his wife. From seeing his church burnt to the ground, to realising a lot about his past, Father Jack sees his life crumbling around him. His potential death seems almost trivial. Will he be put out of his misery? Will the identity of the man wishing to end his life be revealed? Is it worth tracking down or would you be better off saying 10 ‘Our Fathers’ and 1 ‘Hail Mary’?
The answer is simple. Calvary is a fantastic piece of cinema. It’s often touching, sometimes devastating and darkly funny with scenes making you laugh when you know you shouldn’t. That being said, it never goes over the line of being in bad taste or becoming childish. It’s also refreshing to see a film of this nature focusing on a kind-hearted priest, as opposed to the cliché paedophilic caricature that we have become accustomed to. Brendan Gleesen is masterful in his portrayal of the troubled, yet good natured priest. The cast as a whole all put in a fantastic job, with each character having their own quirks and stand out personal attributes. Another character that stands out for me isn’t even a person or being at all. The setting is a powerful presence in itself. The Irish backdrop adds so much to the film in more ways than merely being aesthetically pleasing. Don’t get me wrong, Larry Smith’s (Bronson, Only God Forgives) sweeping shots of the woodland and coastline are breathtaking to say the least. The soundtrack is also of note, with songs coming from the likes of Fred Neil and Hoagy Carmichael to name but just a few. Overall, Calvary is worthy of all the awards and recognition it has been receiving. For those looking for a powerful, intelligent and brave film with well executed elements of dark humour, it is definitely worthy of your time. If you enjoyed films such as Seven Psychopaths and Filth, you will not be disappointed. Easily one the best films of the year!
Calvary is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Entertainment One.