Directed: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Aidan Gillen, Kelly Reilly & Chris O' Dowd
Running: 100 minutes
John Michael McDonagh caught everyone's attention in 2011 with the humorous tale of an unorthodox policeman by the name of Gerry Boyle. The Guard, starring the always presentable Brendan Gleeson, was heaped for its off-the-cuff comedy, "Irishness" and originality. So much so that many ludicrous insinuators boldly claimed it to the "the best" Irish film ever made. McDonagh returns with Gleeson at the helm once again and "the best" Irish movie claim is revived once more in Calvary; a rural tale of societies outlook on the modern church and the impact it has had on various individuals. Calvary's gloomy concept is smartly shot and nicely written. But this Irish film will undoubtedly finds its "global" praise in its daring subject matter as "our" renowned routine of independent movies with crafty dialog and likable characters has slightly dipped this time around as the topic of choice makes you wonder why it would advertise "black comedy" in the first place.
"There is no point in killing a bad priest, but killing a good one? That will be a shock". That grueling statement is followed by a Sunday appointment that will see Father James Lavelle (Gleeson) meet his supposed killer. The aching pain of self-confession is heard through our mysterious antagonist, blaming Father James and his good morals for the church and its despicable accusations (and convictions) of the past. Seeking solitude among the local community, Father James is startled by the encounter however the seriousness of the matter takes its time. Father James is considered a rare breed in the town of Sligo as the locals confide in him. They are attendees of a small church they no longer seek hope in. Father James and his dedication to the church and his community is played out in various sequences as the mender and peacekeeper of his community. Encounters with the abusive Jack Brennan (Chris O'Dowd) and the oblivious Milo Herlihy (Killian Scott) shows that he is yet to give up hope for the towns moral dysfunction - even if the culprit behind the confession box is living among him.
Calvary is grungy in its perception of modern society and the affect the church has had on various individuals; all of which play their part, however strange they may be. There are some fabulous scenes involving Father James and fellow priest, father Leary (David Wilmot). It is a relationship that is "Irish" and believable and makes full use of its clever writing. The lingering affect in the air of the small town is felt with routine trips to the locals, some you will find memorable and heartfelt, others I felt were quite uncanny, disturbing and just added to darken a tone that is already blind. One such is an irritating Aidan Gillen who inherits a grotesque character similar to Lord Balish of Game of Thrones. The towns doctor and philosophical head-melt proves dull, strange and awfully performed by a fantastic actor in Aidan Gillen. The same is said for an imprisoned cannibal played by Domhnall Gleeson in a wonderfully shot scene but the dialog and overall description of the encounter feels exaggerated to add yet another haunting interaction that feels far from authentic. It prolongs its sympathy from an emotionally crushed priest to emotionally disturbed locals that falls flat in its many uncanny side-plots enforcing a message we previously gathered from its fantastically written introduction.
The relationship between Father James and his daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) gives Calvary a real depth of both reality with its bereaving comfort and connection. The performance from Kelly Reilly is phenomenal and really bounces off the riveting presence Brendan Gleeson has so often conveyed. Gleeson probably has given what has already been decided as a career defining performance. Gleeson really drives the sensitivity and the movie's cynicism and the modern perspective that he is indeed the poster boy for. Unfortunately I found the comedy nonexistent. Not that I went in to laugh my gut off, but it was advertised with black comedy and I missed most of that it seems. The sequences in the local pub are supposed to provide the black comedy, giving screen time to Pat Shortt and some more Aidan Gillen which proves hard to indulge in.
Calvary has received much praise on an international level, with snobby magazines like Empire and Total Film bowing to its daring concept and visually gritty story. Its brave in its approach and there was no better actor to lead the line other than Brendan Gleeson who is clearly devoted to a character that brings much relevance regarding the history of the church, and the growth of society's religious perspective right to the dramatic climax. The uncanny characters just didn't do it for me. They are vital surroundings in this stylistic story but I felt they added dialog that proved philosophically boring, crude and forgettable. Kelly Reilly on the other hand conveyed the same devoted performance necessary to make us believe in this extremely hot and prolonging debatable topic of crime - even if the rest of locals failed desperately in its "black comedy".