When kindly priest Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is threatened by an unknown figure during confession, he is given a week to make his peace before meeting his maker. His plans would go all the smoother if not for his being beset by the tragically deranged members of his parish, terribly cynical locals and his visiting troubled daughter.
I remember heralding this movie as the next project from writer/director John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson following 2011’s The Guard and had notions that this newest outing could be on a similar, darkly comic wavelength. The short version is it isn’t. The longer version is Calvary is a stirring, sentimental story of guilt, sin, reprisal and more importantly, love. It’s the kind of cinema that we forgot people could make, and it’s brilliant. It’s by no means an easy film to watch, but the combination of gorgeous cinematography, stalwart performances and a script tighter than a cassock that shrunk in the wash means it’s a must.
I know I end up talking about the setting of films sooner or later, but Calvary takes the cake when it comes to vistas. Father Lavelle’s struggles are set before the ancient landscapes of Ireland; be they the golds and greens of tree leaves, the omnipresent mountainsides or the crashing of waves over historical stone coasts, Ireland has never looked older or more otherworldly. Seriously, the Irish tourism board could learn a thing or two from Calvary (Catholic guilt notwithstanding).
Whilst traipsing around this sculpted gorgeousness, Gleeson’s Father Lavelle holds us in a performance so honest and powerful you’ll find it difficult to picture him doing anything else. Then again, that’s just Brendan Gleeson for you. But then again AGAIN Calvary wrings absolutely magnificent performances from all of its select cast, with Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Domnhall Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Isaach de Banklole, and even Dylan Moran acting a storm around Gleeson’s own gradually building tempest. It’s astonishing just how on top form everyone is. Astonishing, I say. In many ways the terrifically put-upon performance by Gleeson, the mad-cap cavalcade of characters, the scenic backdrops, the analogous religious imagery, it all rings very closely to an Irish version of The Coen Brother’s ‘A Serious Man’ (so one with more drinking, swearing and fighting). This is in no way designed as a criticism, as the inherent Irish-ness of the setting and plot take the concept of the Job-like premise to new and powerful places.
I realise this review has been light on the preposterous turns-of-phrase I usually employ, but that’s the kind of film ‘Calvary’ is. It may make you giggle in places, but overall it’s a deeply moving piece of drama wrought with sentiment, majesty and forgiveness. I don’t want to belittle what this film stirs in your insides by being aloof, I merely ask that you go see it and dare to find a film that delivers what it does better (spoiler: you won’t).
Running Time: 101 minutes
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly
Director: John Michael McDonagh
UK Release Date: 11 April 2014