Calvary is an Irish drama written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. The film follows Father James (Brendan Gleeson), the local Irish parish’s priest. At a confessional, a member of James’s parish reveals that he was once molested by a now-deceased priest, and because of this, he will kill Father James in one week’s time—he tells Father James that killing a good priest as opposed to a bad priest would be more disconcerting for the Catholic church. James then proceeds over the next week to continue helping and supporting his delicate daughter (Kelly Reilly) and the members of his parish with their own personal problems, all the while trying to figure out who is planning to kill him. These ominous and disturbing circumstances cause Father James to question whether he has the courage to face his own Calvary.
Despite a cast composed of notable actors, this film is as independent as they come. Before seeing this movie, I was not aware of its director, McDonagh. It turns out, he has only written and directed one other feature before Calvary, an Irish comedy called The Guard, also starring Brendan Gleeson. Only after watching this movie did I learn that The Guard is one of the most critically acclaimed films in Irish cinema, and it is also the biggest box-office success in Irish history. Needless to say, McDonagh is a big name across the pond, despite the fact that I had never heard of him. After seeing Calvary, I am going to do whatever it takes to track down The Guard because McDonagh is an incredible writer and director. Character studies make for some of the best films, and McDonagh has carefully constructed one of the better ones I have seen in a while. You follow Father James throughout the entire film, and as he faces struggles, you feel that struggle on an intimate level. Yes, the film required a riveting performance from Brendan Gleeson, but the sheer emotion and empathy surrounding Father James’s character is the product of a remarkable screenplay and outstanding direction.
Calvary is first and foremost a dramatic film, but the more surprising (and paramount) feature of the movie is its unique comedic tone. Black comedies are always a riot because they mix some sincerely sinister, dark hilarity with the classic aspects of an emotional drama. McDonagh adds some hilarious dialogue into the Irish parish members’ conversations with Father James, which plays out hysterically ironic considering Father James is an upstanding religious figure in the town—Father James even proceeds to curse along with his churchgoers in some scenes, revealing a more humanistic nature not usually associated with members of the clergy. Making Father James more relatable to his parish members is an intricate storytelling device that ensures the viewers will feel emphatic with his plight.
As mentioned earlier, Calvary is a character study if there ever was one, and Brendan Gleeson (an accomplished actor with a filmography that would make even Tom Hanks jealous) gives one of the year’s most tantalizing performances. It is no wonder he won the award for Best Actor at both the Irish Film and Television Awards and the British Independent Film Awards. Gleeson definitely pulls his weight in this movie, and his performance alone is reason to check Calvary out. I was not entirely on board with Kelly Reilly’s acting in her role as Father James’s daughter Fiona, but her utterly forgettable performance is made up for thanks to a couple of memorable supporting performances. The always-hilarious Chris O’Dowd (the Irish guy from Bridesmaids) and Aidan Gillen (Mayor/Governor Carcetti from The Wire and Lord “Littlefinger” Baelish from Game of Thrones) both provide the funnier scenes in the movie, and they definitely stick out as a highlight from this film. If you are looking for a great movie that is off the beaten path from the average American blockbuster, I highly recommend this one. Calvary is rated R for sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use.
Calvary trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGM5rq_vX4U
Academy Award nominations for Calvary:
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:
- Gone Girl
- The Lego Movie