I found Calvary to be an incredibly well done film! Boasting an award winning performance by Brendan Gleeson (Best Lead Actor: Boston Online Film Critics Association, British Independent Film Awards and Irish Film and Television Awards) and award worthy performances by the supporting cast; it was a riveting story, with just enough humour to soften the darkness of it, and just enough darkness to elevate the drama of it.
Father James (Gleeson) hears confession from one of the parishioners of his small Irish town who has decided he will kill him because as a child he was molested by a priest. It wasn’t Father James of course, but he feels a priest must die. The man says he actually likes Father James, so he gives him a week to get his affairs in order. Through that week we meet several members of the community, knowing that any one of them could be a potential killer. There’s the butcher (Chris O’Dowd) who may have hit his wife (Orla O’Rourke) who was having an affair with the mechanic (Isaach De Bankolé). There’s Milo (Killian Scott), the troubled youth who can’t decide if he wants to join the army so he can kill without remorse or just commit suicide; the atheist doctor Frank Harte (Aidan Gillen) who has an odd thoughts about death, and there’s the rich newcomer (Dylan Moran) to the region who seems to resent everything around him, including his own wealth that he admits was mostly obtained illegally. The male prostitute (Owen Sharpe) and the cop (Gary Lydon) who uses his services. We also meet Father James’ daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) who comes to her father after a failed suicide attempt to reconcile with him, unknowingly just before he himself has been scheduled to die. James is surrounded by people who question him, question his life, his career and his faith. They consider him a joke, but through it all, he remains a good man.
This is one of the few ensemble cast films where I didn’t think that too many stars ruined it. The cast may not have actually been that large, but we get such detailed views of the citizens of the unnamed village, that it seemed bigger. Perhaps it is because most of the cast are not really “big” stars in North America (where I am), that it didn’t seem like the film was trying to overpower the audience with big names. Through the bonus features and a little research, it seems several of the cast are known more for comedy (I of course was already familiar with Chris O’Dowd as I’m a big fan of The IT Crowd and Moone Boy). I find it very interesting to use all these comedians in this quite serious and quite dark, dramatic film.
Another thing I found interesting, was that the film is almost like a “reverse Columbo“, in that presumably Father James knows who has threatened to kill him, but we the audience are kept guessing. In the old Peter Falk Columbo TV series, the audience always knew who the killer was before the opening credits rolled, and it was up to the detective to work it out as we watched, knowing the path he should take. This time, we assume that James knows the path he should be taking, but are left twisting not knowing if he’s actually going down that path.
Calvary was a great film, but I can see how this one could be a hard sell. Films with a religious background or theme certainly aren’t for everyone; especially when it touches on the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Still I would have to highly recommend Calvary. The soulful performance by Gleeson alone is worth the price of admission, as he scores again re-teaming with writer/director John Michael McDonagh who he previously worked with on The Guard, which was also an excellent film.