Dr. Donna Copeland’s
There are few times as a critic where I see a film that is unlike anything previously. Writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s follow up to The Guard is not only better by leaps and bounds creatively and cinematically, it’s also one of Gleeson’s best performances to date. While I was not a fan of The Guard in general, Gleeson still received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance, just as he did for the 2008 film In Bruges. Gleeson has nearly become a household name, attached to films like Harry Potter, Cold Mountain, Edge of Tomorrow to name a few. Where this becomes unlike something I have seen begins with the script and the creativity affects everything it touches and becomes one of those films you watch with your mouth agape.
As Father James (Gleeson) is hearing what he thinks will be a confession, he is instead threatened by one of his parishioners. “I’m going to murder you father, a week from today,” the voice says. The date is set for one week and the idle threat scares James enough to seek advice from the local Bishop. However, throughout the week as he makes his rounds to the coastal townspeople, he looks at each individual with a sharp eye. This little seaside community is raging with sin and nearly all those who attend the church mock Father James, who appears to be the only respectable person left.
McDonagh’s script includes some of the most unforgettable supporting characters in a single film. Fully developed and expertly cast, each could have their own separate film or storyline. The cast includes Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids), Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones) and Kelly Reilly (Heaven is For Real), portraying James's daughter, returned home after attempted suicide. The film is sectioned off into days, counting down till James is supposed to meet this threatening voice, and by Tuesday I found myself so entirely hooked by suspense and McDonagh’s revelation of personifying the breaking of the ten commandments with each character that it feels more like a thriller.
The cinematography and every exterior shot make magnificent use of the harsh but lushly beautiful Irish coast. It’s intentional that McDonagh shows us such breathtaking beauty on the outside and such deviant behavior with the people who populate it. McDonagh’s subtle (and often not too subtle) points about humanity as referred to in the various townspeople, show a real understanding of human nature and also an underlining commentary on the church and religious beliefs. This film does have a particular message but it challenges the audience to find it and leaves you with enough moral fiber to chew on while making beg for a second viewing if you dare to return to the dark and brooding town.
Final Thought – One of the year’s most creative, uniquely brilliant and unforgettable films. Gleeson gives an Oscar worthy performance.
By: Dustin Chase
The title of Calvary is significant, but you may not know how much until you see the film, which, by the way, is chock full of social and psychological pearls of wisdom. The writer (and director), John Michael McDonagh (who wrote and directed The Guard), brings such immediacy to every issue and character the viewer is transfixed in deciphering hidden meanings and recognizing intended irony all while picking up on the humor in human foibles and irrationality. To wit: Someone threatening (in a confessional) to kill a priest because he is good. Yes, you want to cry and laugh at the same time. This sets up the whole story, with people enduring hardships, trying to make sense of them (however faultily), and taking some kind of action.
Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a man who came to the priesthood after being married, fathering a daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly), and losing his wife to illness. He is pensive, much alone, and easy to talk to, so throughout the days and evenings, people (not necessarily church devotees) walk right up and present him with their dilemmas. His advice—if he gives it—is always thoughtful, and he doesn’t mind getting impatient and letting someone know he sees through them when they are being coy or cynical. For example, in response to “I feel like I ought to feel guilty” (when obviously he should, but doesn’t) Father James ends the conversation and says for the man to let him know when he is ready to be serious and truthful.
Calvary is a commentary—a moving picture—of human beings in the process of confronting and dealing with their anger and with death. So we’re presented with situations of threats to kill, actual death, suicidal thoughts, and normal aging (“You know you are getting old when people stop using the word death around you”). Characters get angry at one another and act it out in various ways, many of which are destructive. The human tendency to want others to pay for what they or someone else has done is in full view. And we see that there is only so much people can take before they come to a breaking point. But lest you think Calvary is too dark, we see a bit of humor and the concept of forgiveness woven throughout.
McDonagh likewise includes commentary on social issues by having the characters voice their thoughts and feelings about, say, abuse; and ultimately drives home the point that until we actually experience traumas of the world, we tend not to react to them emotionally. He asks the question, “Should/n’t we?”
The acting is superb—particularly that of the talented Gleeson, who must convey all kinds of thoughts, feelings, and reactions with his body as well as his voice. But other main characters, such as Chris O’Dowd (Jack Brennan) and Kelly Reilly (Fiona) give nuanced performances as well. Cinematography by Larry Smith beautifully captures the landscape, the weather, and the people with interesting angles and creative juxtapositions. The music by Patrick Cassidy covers a wide range from ethnic to classical, enriching every scene with the appropriate mood and import.
A film for those willing to ponder and discuss some of the weightier issues of human existence.
By Donna R. Copeland