Calvary (15)

Mar 11, 2015
Cranbrook Film Society

Brendan Gleeson is a sensation as the flawed hero of this moving and powerful Irish drama.
The film is dark and fatalistic, but tinged with hope.

“Buñuelian…anarchic, dark and lacerating” (in its humour)
– Director

John Michael McDonagh | USA/Ireland | 2014  |100 minutes | 15

Film notes:

Beautifully filmed, and with a towering performance from Brendan Gleeson in the central role, this film grips from the opening scene. Seated in the confessional, Gleeson, the village priest in a rural community in County Sligo hears the confession of one of his parishioners, who recounts how he was brutally abused by a Catholic priest from an early age. He explains that he plans to murder a good priest in retribution and tells Gleeson he is that priest. He asks him to meet him on the beach the following Sunday, allowing him a week to prepare for his fate and to set his house in order.

The film follows the unfolding week as the dreaded moment slowly approaches. There are parallels with ‘High Noon’, both in the terrible inevitability of the forthcoming encounter and in the way the protagonist as a good but fallible man must face the situation and his fears alone. Father James knows the identity of his would be assailant, but we do not, and as he makes his rounds amongst his parishioners it seems, in almost a Cluedo-like way, that it could be any of them. There are a number of familiar faces amongst the supporting actors: comedian Dylan Moran (‘Black Books’, ‘Run Fat Boy Run’) as a lonely rich banker, Chris O’Dowd (‘The IT Crowd’, ‘The Boat that Rocked’, ‘The Sapphires’) as a butcher with an unfaithful wife and Aidan Gillan (‘Queer as Folk’, ‘Game of Thrones’) as a coke snorting atheist doctor. Unlike the complex characterisation of Gleeson’s, Father James, the parishioners, without exception mired in sin, misery and cynicism come across more as caricatures than real people, but perhaps that is the point as they play out their parts in this immorality play.

Some have spoken about the film as a black comedy, but although there is dark humour and absurdity it is hard to pin a genre on a film, which is part whodunit and part drama of conscience. The idea of Christ atoning for the sins of the world on Calvary is never far from one’s mind, and as Xan Brookes writes of Gleeson in the Guardian “He plays God’s servant as a recovering alcoholic with an impossible task, variously fired by rage, reason and sadness. Here, at least, is a Christ we can relate to.

Helen Hawken


            Weighted vote 84%