Film Review: Calvary

We took some time this weekend to check out the Everyman Theater, which we love so much mainly for their atmosphere and their chocolate covered honeycomb.

We had seen on every tube station poster board and “advert” for Calvary starring Brenden Gleeson, whom I love as an actor. After taking Jeff to see Under the Skin, I knew he would want something a little different, and when the words “dark comedy” came up, I was intrigued to check this movie out. 

The beautifully shot film starts with some rather blunt and startling dialogue which includes, “I’m going to kill you, Father.” Gleeson, the priest of the parish, is startled by the statement, and all he can seem to say is, “That’s certainly a startling opening line,” which is a fair statement for the rest of the film. No longer are we watching a movie about a priest and his day-in-the-life activities, but rather a who’s-going-to-do-it mystery.

0008c190-630Father James is surrounded by troubled characters all of whom suffer from one or another of the seven deadly sins and have no problem letting him know about it with very little guilt:  there is the doctor who is a little too numbed by death, the wife who wears large shades to hide her bruises yet has no problem parading her adultery, the meek butcher who doesn’t mind that his wife has a very public dalliance, the serial killer with no remorse, and the lonely millionaire so turned off from the world, he couldn’t care if he tried.

The man in the confessional who threatens Father James, gives him a week to settle his affairs and a date to meet him at the beach for the confrontation. But Father James has done nothing wrong, and that is his crime. He’s a good man with a daughter whom he loves, but is troubled herself, threatening to commit suicide over the loss of a man in her life.

As an audience member, you build compassion and sympathy for Father James throughout the film as the days tick closer to Sunday. You want him to run away or turn the man in, but it seems as though he has accepted his fate, and carries on his week as though it were any other.

John Michael McDonagh, the director and writer of this film, does a good job building the tension and creating a character that accepts the responsibility of what his cassock represents. But that doesn’t mean the audience member is at ease. Symbols of death are all around Father James raising the stakes, never letting the viewer to forget. A sound will go off sounding like a gun, or the visual of a coffin signaling his fate will appear, or even idle threats spewed from complete strangers all keep the story moving. 

Parts of the film dragged a bit as the development between Father James and his daughter came together. She seemed written into the movie only to show that Gleeson is not alone in his world and has more to lose than his church or his faith. However, she is no different than the band of caricatures we visit only she is not aware she has more to lose. A complicated relationship doesn’t get mended in a week, but he does his best to repair without letting on this was the end of his life.

It was a gorgeous movie with cascading views of the Irish coast, and the well-written dialogue hinted at the very dry dark comedy that is perfectly suited for this cast of characters.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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