Calvary (2014)

CalvaryWhile holding confession, Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is sentenced to death by an unseen man seeking revenge for past injustices at the hands of the church. Lavelle has been given a week to live, but rather than give the man’s name — which, importantly, he knows — to the police or flee the country — though the thought does occur to him — he simply goes about his religious duties as usual. His parishioners/the chief suspects include a shady butcher (Chris O’Dowd), a shady doctor (Aidan Gillen), a shady squire (Dylan Moran) and a kind-hearted cannibal (Domhnall Gleeson).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Calvary — the not-so-surprise movie at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival — is an Irish black-comedy, with elements of both tragedy and drama. It’s from John Michael McDonagh, brother of Martin McDonagh, and is cut from the same cloth as both In Bruges and The Guard. Whereas those films centred on hitmen and police officers respectively, Calvary concerns itself with the priesthood: specifically Brendan Gleeson’s Father James Lavelle.

Though perhaps similar in disposition (it’s still Gleeson, after all), Lavelle is almost the polar opposite of his character in The Guard. He’s essentially a good man, though undoubtedly conflicted and naturally wracked with Catholic guilt. Gleeson is once again terrific, and here treads the fine line between cynicism and scepticism with surprising ease; he’s a man of faith, but is quite happy to be flippant about it. This ties into another key difference between McDonagh’s films: whereas The Guard was a drama undercut by humour, Calvary is essentially a dark comedy run through with real human hurt (the opening line, for example, shocks you into laughing, but really isn’t very funny at all).

Calvary is sensitive and occasionally even stirring, but it is just sardonic enough to steer it clear of mawkishness. Lavelle’s relationship with his estranged daughter — even his friendship with his dog —  makes a real impression, and his inevitable confrontation with his would-be killer is genuinely emotional. The satire is just as effective, with the film commenting on everything from the country’s economic downturn to cover-ups and corruption within the Catholic church. It’s a story of sin, sacrifice and redemption, but one that is strikingly short on miracles. If only McDonagh had been more careful with his casting, it might have been a decent mystery too.

Calvary isn’t as entertaining as The Guard or In Bruges, but then it isn’t trying to be. This is a much more meditative movie, and is ultimately sharper and more scathing than either of its predecessors for its lack of a disarming punchline  — its message will stay with you long after the jokes have faded from memory.




About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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