What’s It About? What if someone told you they were going to kill you in a week? In Calvary by John Michael McDonagh, it’s the predicament in which Irish priest, Father James (Brendan Gleeson), finds himself.
Father James is intent on doing good and making the world, or at least his village, a better place. He is a good man, the kind that would never want to harm another living being. Walking through the countryside, the cobbled streets or on the beach, often with his dog, he seems at peace and content with his life.
On a fine day, like any other, Father James sits down in his confessional box, ready to listen to what the person hidden on the other side has to say. “I’m going to kill you, father,” is the response he gets. But that’s not all there is to it: “I’m going to kill you, because you are innocent.” The soon-to-be murderer reveals that he was abused by a figure of a religious institution in his youth. That priest took his innocence and, as a symbol of that, the now adult victim believes that the life of an innocent priest should be taken as an act of revenge.
Verdict: These days, the profession of the priest, has lost people’s esteem, not only in the Irish countryside, but all around the world. With people and victims coming forward, attesting to abuse within the walls of religious institutions, the church has seen better days. This guarantees hard times for a man like Father James in Calvary, whose mission it is to help others and who believes that his faith and religion is something fair and just. There is mistrust, for example, whenever he befriends a child. Being a father himself with an adult daughter, the viewer knows that he would only ever take a fatherly role in such a relationship. One of the saddest moments of the film shows Gleeson walking down a lonely road, accidentally meeting a young girl, who had come to his village on a family vacation. As she is walking all on her own, he only wants to make sure she’s safe and keep her company for a while. With screeching tires, her father suddenly pulls up and commands her to get into the car. While Father James had been looking out for her protection, society can only ever see the worst in him now and he is misunderstood once again.
The basic idea of the character of a good priest in today’s society with the bad image of the church was the starting point for director and writer John Michael McDonagh. After having worked with Gleeson on The Guard, he was his first choice to play the priest. Having enjoyed working together before, Gleeson came on board immediately. His heart-warming and poignant portrayal of the priest, who’s also bold and full of wit, is one that naturally stirs up emotions within the audience. He is joined by a brilliant cast of Kelly Reilly as his pensive and fragile daughter, Aidan Gillen as a straight-forward doctor, Orla O’Rourke as a cheating wife, Chris O’Dowd as an illiterate butcher, Dylan Moran as a cocky rich man and, Gleeson’s own son, Domhnall Gleeson.
From the very start, the film is blackly comic, with Gleeson answering the threat on his life with the phrase: “Certainly a startling opening line.” True to McDonagh’s previous scripts and films, the dialogue of Calvary is just as witty and dark as always. The concept of the film is particularly clever, as it resembles a murder mystery told backwards, with the murder only happening at the very end. The story is split into different days, from Monday to Sunday, the later being the day of the predicted murder. While Father James believes he knows who sat on the other side of the confessional booth, the viewer is left in the dark and kept on the edge of their seat until the very end.
Final Words: A witty but quiet and heart-wrenching story brilliantly acted by a superb cast and with a standout performance from Brendan Gleeson.
Calvary is out in UK cinemas on 11 April 2014.