The last time John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson teamed up we were treated to The Guard which is a perfect of example of Irish humour on top form. It is a testament to the success of The Guard that McDonagh and Gleeson’s latest offering received a wide release. We should all be grateful that it did.
PLOT: During a routine confession Father Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is given one week to live by a mystery confessor. The assassin believes that the murder of an innocent priest will make up for the abuse he suffered as a child. Rather than flee in fear for his life Father Lavelle attempts get his house in order before the final confrontation on the seventh day. END PLOT
On paper the plot of Calvary seems simple but it offers much more than you might expect. Father Lavelle does not involve the police nor does he attempt to locate his would be killer but uses his time to reconnect with the villagers. The Father’s attempts to steer his wayward flock of parishioners back onto the right track is handled with genuine sincerity and compassion. The parishioners have turned away from the church and do not welcome his guidance causing the Father to suffer quite a lot of verbal and sometimes physical abuse for his efforts. Calvary offers some uncomfortable yet real viewing which is helped along nicely by some very dark humour.
The dark humour is scattered throughout the film but the big laughs of The Guard are not present although they are not meant to be. Calvary is a slow burning drama and scenes such as Father Lavelle rekindling his relationship with his daughter (Kelly Reilly) or making a connection with a rich yet lost businessman (Dylan Moran) provide some emotionally poignant moments.
The undisputed star of Calvary is Brendan Gleeson who combines his melancholy looks and razor sharp wit to perfection. There were hints of this performance in The Guard but in Calvary Brendan Gleeson takes it to the next level. Gleeson may have been the main draw but the supporting cast more than hold their own.
Kelly Reilly pops up as Father Lavelle’s wayward daughter and Dylan Moran’s return to acting was very welcome. Chris O’Dowd and Aidan Gillen also put in strong performances. Brendan Gleeson can take pride in the fact that the stand out scene in Calvary was a tense conversation between Father Lavelle and Freddie Joyce (Domhnall Gleeson) in the local prison. Gleeson junior is slowly building up a strong reputation and his small role in Calvary will this no harm whatsoever.
There is a risk with any film that focuses on religion to mishandle the tone but everything about Calvary, whether it be the feelings of loss or quiet moments of reflection, are not only believable but relatable. Calvary will linger long after the closing credits have finished and it thoroughly deserves a 10/10. Expect to see this in my top ten list for 2014.