Take a Drink: for each new awesome character actor who pops up on screen
Take a Drink: whenever someone takes a swing at the Catholic Church (literally or figuratively)
Take a Drink: for sexual foibles and strange inclinations
Take a Drink: for writerly in-jokes
Do a Shot: for dire threats and messages
By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
I don’t know what the hell Mama McDonagh fed her children, but I sure would like to write her a letter and ask (a letter just feels more appropriate), because damn if her boys didn’t grow up to be fine, strapping director/screenwriters. Martin gave us In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, and John Michael has delivered The Guard, and now: Calvary.
It’s the corned beef, isn’t it!
Calvary follows a Catholic priest (Brendan Gleeson) over a few days which begin with a mysterious voice in a confessional telling him that he will kill him before the week is out. The priest then goes about his duties serving the eccentric, largely hostile town populace, talking over the regrets of the past with his daughter (Kelly Reilly), and waiting for his date with destiny.
Wow, where to start? I guess the cast, which is about as deep and talented as you could ask for, including Aidan Gillen, Chris O’Dowd, M. Emmet Walsh, Domhnall Gleeson, and Isaach de Bankole among others. O’Dowd in particular shows some dramatic chops I had no idea he had. Newcomer Owen Sharpe also leaves a definite impression and Reilly is great as a young woman trying to put her past regrets and addiction behind her.
Hmm, where have I seen that before?
This is the Brendan Gleeson show first and foremost, though. He gives a soulful performance, a man of definite convictions finding them under assault from all sides, and trying to stay true to them despite his mounting frustration with a world gone mad and perhaps beyond his help. He’s no saint, though, but a real man of past and present failures trying to do right in spite of them. His path feels like an allegory for the modern priesthood, atoning for its own sins and trying to forge a path forward.
McDonagh shows real growth here as a director, with a more polished style than The Guard, particularly the way he shoots coastal Ireland that makes it look almost like some verdant African or South American cape. His principal talent, though, remains in writing. Calvary is a darkly, almost pessimistically funny film that somehow manages to also be a deeply pondered, even hopeful morality tale. Considering church burning, adultery, murder, and caninocide all take place, that’s rather an accomplishment.
Just like everybody’s family-favorite suicide drama.
The structure of the film is what most impressed me, though. At first it seems like a collection of anecdotes and comic set-pieces as Gleeson bounces from one eccentric rendezvous to another and then later one theological or philosophical crucible to the next. I was starting to think there was no real plan at all until all at once it snapped into focus, and the emotional heft of these meetings made their collective impact felt. The ending is devastating, and beautiful, and just open-ended enough to allow for misinterpretation. It’s incredible.
Calvary is a hilarious, visceral, and meticulously constructed film about a priest not losing his faith in God, but rather in his fellow man. In the end, though, one type of faith begets the other, and we witness the rarest of all cinematic birds- a true Christian ideal.