After he is threatened during a confession, good-natured and well meaning priest Fr James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) must battle the dark forces closing in around him.
Review by Louise Keller:
As its symbolic title implies, faith is central to John Michael McDonagh's film, although humanity plays the leading role, as embodied by Brendan Gleeson's Irish priest Father James Lavelle. Plaiting strands of drama with gentle black humour, McDonagh has created a solid platform for the superlative Gleeson whose soulful, grounded presence is a compelling guide for a rich insight into the small coastal village inhabitants' sins and virtues. Like the pull of a quicksand, the deeper we tread, the more we are sucked in; this is a complete work that beautifully showcases life's contradictions and complexities. More satisfying than their pairing in McDonagh's 2011 hit film The Guard, Calvary is profound without being turgid, moving without being sentimental - and very human.
Forgiveness is underrated, says Gleeson's Father Lavelle, whose sermon goes far beyond the church, as he visits his parishioners at home with a sympathetic ear, clearly aware of all their blemishes. The film's premise is set in the very first scene, when an unseen man through the dark shadows of the confessional, declares his intent to kill the priest at a given time in a week. The vengeance he seeks for the sexual abuse received as a child from another priest, is to kill a good priest. A priest who is exemplary in his behaviour - like Father Lavelle. Gleeson's physicality plays a vital role - his solid build, craggy features with deeply etched facial lines and full beard are a comforting presence and the camera captures his every nuanced expression.
The film plays out a bit like a whodunit and countdown to the anticipated murder, as we follow Father Lavelle on his rounds. We meet a diverse bunch of characters, all of whom are flawed. 'No-one is a lost cause,' he tells Veronica (Orla O'Rourke), whose black eye prompt him to visit her husband Jack the butcher (Chris O'Dowd) and her Ivory Coast lover Simon (Isaach De Bankolé). Then there is Michael (Dylan Moran), the edgy rich property owner who has everything but nothing; the ageing writer (M. Emmet Walsh) who wants a James Bond gun; Milo (Killian Scott), the sex-crazed young man who contemplates suicide or joining the army; Leo (Owen Sharpe), the good time provocative male prostitute who is in a relationship with the local Inspector (Gary Lydon); the altar boy (Michael Og Lane) with a taste for wine and more.
Look out for the chilling scene in which Gleeson's son Domhall, who plays a convicted serial killer and cannibal, asks for Father Lavelle to visit him in prison. The dynamic is electric. Also powerful are the scenes between Gleeson and titan-haired Kelly Reilly, who plays his troubled daughter. The scene on the windy beach front when father and daughter confront their personal issues cuts straight to the heart.
The imposing green countryside and expansive lonely beach make their own statements, providing a solid sense of place. Special mention to Larry Smith's cinematography with its beautiful lighting - the ever-changing shadows on Gleeson's face at a critical part of the exposition provide great depth to our emotional journey. However the film belongs to Gleeson, who grounds the proceedings with an unforgettable performance that epitomises goodness - in a human way.
Email this article
CAST: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach De Bankole, M. Emmett Walsh, Marie-Josie Croze, Domhnall Gleeson, David Wilmot
PRODUCER: Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, James Flynn
DIRECTOR: John Michael McDonagh
SCRIPT: John Michael McDonagh
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Larry Smith
EDITOR: Chris Gill
MUSIC: Patrick Cassidy
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Geraghty
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 3, 2014