Threatening to kill a good priest on a Sunday certainly demands notice – so does the rest of ‘Calvary’ manage to keep our attention?
Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson - ‘Troy,’ ‘Harry Potter’) came to the Church late, having lost his wife. He ministers to a small coastal town, and is often dismayed by the antics of his townsfolk. His daughter, suffering from depression, comes to stay with him just as one of those townsfolk threatens to murder Father James, for no other reason than he is a "good priest". The identity of the would-be killer remains a mystery until the end of the film, and actually seems unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
The spectacular Irish scenery is reason enough to see ‘Calvary’, and is supplemented beautifully by the ethereal score. The writing, however, makes the film worthwhile - witty repartee, perfectly timed sarcastic responses, and excellent deliveries all make the rather heavy discussions on faith and motivation digestible.
The townsfolk keep Father James systematically occupied. The town butcher Jack is different role for Chris O’Dowd (‘The Sapphires,’ ‘The Boat that Rocked’), who usually plays a witty charmer, down on his luck. Here, he retains some of that familiarity, but there’s a hardness and desperation to Jack that O’Dowd does surprisingly well. Dylan Moran (‘Black Books’) finds a familiar fit as the wealthy asshole, and gets one particularly memorable scene with an expensive painting. Aiden Gillen seems to be stuck in his ‘Game of Thrones’ character, playing a creepy doctor with ulterior motives, bringing little to the party. The standout is, of course, Brendan Gleeson – infinitely relatable in his continuing disappointment in the nature of mankind, complemented well by Kelly Reilly as his daughter.
Witty repartee, perfectly timed sarcastic responses, and excellent deliveries all make the rather heavy discussions on faith and motivation digestible.
There are so many aspects of humanity mentioned in ‘Calvary’. One of the more striking is the changing nature of perception of organised religion - in particular, the image of men of God. Not so long ago, the parish priest was a trusted pillar of the community. Now, clergymen are treated with mistrust and suspicion. There’s a scene in the film where a man berates Father James for speaking to the man’s daughter, despite there being nothing at all untoward in the interaction.
‘Calvary’ doesn’t pull its punches, forcing you to look at your preconceptions critically. It’s not strictly entertaining, but it is worthwhile. This is a well-made, visually stunning film with a talented cast and excellent writing, and even though the subject matter is a bit heavy, I recommend you see it.