Memorable characters and thoughtful dialogue make this a strong movie with little in the way of unnecessary clutter.
There have been many “who-done-it” films over the centuries but very few “who-will-do-it” stories have been presented. Calvary may be the best one as far as offering up the mystery and then allowing it to take a back seat to the overall story and well defined characters. Expertly written with a balance of somber and light moments you at times feel yourself spiraling down a dark tunnel only to be brought back again by a well-placed, humorous line. Memorable characters and thoughtful dialogue make this a strong movie with little in the way of unnecessary clutter.
Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a highly respected priest in a small Irish town. The film starts with a tight shot of his face as he is taking confession. An unseen person on the other side of the partition declares that he will murder Father James in one week. The voice gives detailed reasons as to why and this dialogue grounds the film and sets it on a journey. Father James reacts as you might expect a man of faith to; he carries on his business as usual. As he interacts with the people who live in the village you soon forget that one of them could be the upcoming assassin. You are more enraptured by the human interaction and the quirky inhabitants in the parish that Father James ministers to.
This is a very dark film and without the built in humor and strong acting of the cast you would be far too weighed down to enjoy it. But writer/director John Michael McDonagh balances each element perfectly so that you are able to experience a range of emotion throughout. Father James is a good man who just happens to be employed by a religion that most in the town can’t stand. This causes an undercurrent of conflict. Though they appreciate the person of Father James you can sense they want him to fall; if only to rejoice in the destruction of the system he represents. This animosity makes everyone a suspect.
Gleeson is award worthy in this performance. He brings such humanity to the robes he wears. He is a devout man but not without feelings and remorse. He truly cares for those around him and is doing his best to instill in them a sense of right and wrong. Whether conversing with other men of the cloth or sharing a drink in the local pub he never holds back what needs to be said. The supporting cast includes Chris O'Dowd (who is known for his comedic timing and dry humor), Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, and M. Emmet Walsh. They each bring a layer to the film that makes it a multi-faceted drama.
Calvary is rated R for sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use. It is a very adult film not only in the content but the overall themes and tones. Many of the faults and stereotypes brought against the Catholic Church are highlighted here. The film is thought provoking and powerfully moving. Many may find it too gloomy with little in the way of redemption. Others who are willing to go through the darkness will appreciate the film for its writing and performances. I give it 4 out of 5 pints. It will surprise you not only with the ending but how the characters capture your attention. It isn’t a style of film you would want to watch religiously but this particular one is certainly worth seeing.