out of Five
Running time: 100
Writer-director John Michael McDonagh's follow-up to The Guard is a superbly written, darkly funny and powerfully moving mystery with a terrific supporting cast and a magnificent central performance from Brendan Gleeson.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, Calvary stars Brendan Gleeson (reteaming with McDonagh after The Guard) as Father James, a parish priest in a coastal village in County Sligo, who receives a death sentence from one of his parishioners during confession. The man in question tells Father James that he was repeatedly raped by a priest as a boy and that as a result, he intends to kill an innocent priest, theorising that that will make more of a splash; he therefore gives Father James a week to get his house in order, telling him that he will meet and kill him on the beach, a week on Sunday.
Though Father James apparently knows the identity of his would-be murderer, he nonetheless calmly goes about his weekly rounds, encountering a number of potential suspects, including: cynical
local doctor (Aiden Gillan), a wealthy, but miserable ex-banker (Dylan Moran), a sex-starved young man (David Wilmot) who's contemplating joining the army, a cuckolded butcher (Chris O'Dowd), his promiscuous wife (Orla O'Rourke), her surly immigrant lover (Isaach De Bankole), a reclusive American writer (M Emmet Walsh), and a disillusioned cop (Gary Lydon) and his rent boy lover (Owen Sharpe), who speaks exclusively in 1930s gangster slang. At the same time, Father James is visited by Fiona (Kelly Reilly), his troubled daughter from his marriage before he joined the priesthood after his wife's death.
Brendan Gleeson is magnificent as Father James, delivering an eminently compassionate performance that is genuinely moving to watch, as each of his parishioners attempts to undermine, denigrate or challenge his faith. His interactions with Kelly Reilly (luminous) are particularly touching, as he struggles with the knowledge that his decision to join the priesthood has meant that he has, paradoxically, swapped being a father for being a Father.
McDonagh has assembled a mouth-watering support cast, each of whom are on superlative form, particularly O'Dowd (displaying a darker, meaner edge than we're used to seeing from him) and Gillen, who has elevated sneering condescension and general sliminess to a fine art.
The superbly written script keeps you guessing throughout as to the killer's identity, unfolding less as a whodunnit than a who'sgonnadoit, while providing a contemplative portrait of faith and guilt that is ultimately deeply moving, regardless of your own personal convictions. Similarly, the dialogue is packed full of delicious lines (including a number of self-referential comments, which some may find a little on the smug side) and McDonagh orchestrates a number of powerfully memorable scenes that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
Impressively directed and superbly written, Calvary is a powerfully emotional and darkly funny comedy-drama, anchored by a magnificent central performance from Brendan Gleeson. Highly recommended.