Review: Calvary (2014)



Director: John Michael McDonagh.

Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Aidan Gillen, David Wilmot, Orla O’Rourke, Killian Scott, Isaach De Bankole, M. Emmet Walsh, Marie-Josée Croze, Owen Sharpe, Domhnall Gleeson.

Running Time: 100 minutes.

Certificate: 15.

Synopsis: A normal day in the parish turns into a week of second-guessing and paranoia as a kind, genuine priest’s life is threatened by an unknown member of his congregation.

Sea, sand and serial killers. You’ve got to love the Irish coast. John Michael McDonagh returns after a three-year hiatus, once again penning and directing an Irish-set black comedy starring Brendan Gleeson. Considerably darker than previous effort, THE GUARD, McDonagh has written an allegoric, hard-hitting piece that isn’t afraid to point fingers at the place in which its lead character finds sanctuary – the Church.

Opening to the claustrophobic refuge of confession, we meet Father James Lavelle, the local priest. It may seem an unremarkable location for Gleeson’s character to start his cinematic journey, but the revelations soon turn sour as the person bearing his soul and atoning for his sins tells the man of the cloth that he’s going to kill him. In seven days. Better start making your peace, then, Father.

In a place low on residents but high on character, every man (or woman?) is a suspect – a fact that makes the threat feel even more of a betrayal. Funny men Chris O’Dowd and Dylan Moran are revelatory as a wisecracking butcher and horse-loving millionaire, respectively, who, both unsatisfied in life – just like every other member of the community – have reason to do something as downright ludicrous as kill the village’s really rather lovely priest.

The continual countdown to the meeting on the beach where James will learn his fate naturally casts a black cloud over proceedings. Help for him, it would seem, comes in the form of his beloved daughter. But Kelly Reilly is underserved and unwritten, unfortunately escaping as little more than a shoehorned cliché, even if she does wonders with her material.

However it’s not all doom and gloom. In a village that has more caricatures than your average episode of Father Ted (David Wilmot plays as the Dougal to Gleeson’s Ted), there is plenty of offbeat humour to revel in, and, aside from Owen Sharpe’s abrasive male gigolo, the quips are all very much on the money. Child abuse may not be a laughing matter, but McDonagh handles it with dignity; a scene involving a young girl and her insular father as eye-opening as it is tragic.

A script that begs to be adapted for the stage, CALVARY is thought-provoking, funny and at times devastating. It may be set next to the tranquil sea, but everyone in this who’s who of Irish cinema is almost irresolvably lost. As things head towards collision point, all involved (even those only onscreen for a matter of minutes, notably the miraculous Domhnall Gleeson) deliver a master class in the tragicomic. So much so that the final three beats (Father, Son and Holy Spirit?) warrant it almost impossible to leave your pew.

Verdict: 4/5

2 responses to “Review: Calvary (2014)

  1. Really want to see this one soon. I’m a big fab of The Guard so have been looking forward to this for a while. Sounds like it meets expectations. Great review.

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