- Director – John Michael McDonagh
- Starring – Bredan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Domhnall Gleeson
- Writer – John Michael McDonagh
- Year – 2014
- Running Time – 101 Minutes
Right from the very first line of Calvary it is abundantly clear the direction that writer/director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard) is heading. With him, we travel on a short, but eventual trip, to spend eight dark and bleak, though at times hilarious, days in Sligo, a small town in Ireland.
Here we are introduced to Father James Levelle (Brenden Gleeson), the local troubled-priest, who whilst holding confession, hears the chilling news that his confessor plans to kill him the following Sunday, therefore giving him eight days to get his house in order. Whilst this could have been the premise for the latest Taken film, instead what we get is a note-perfect, darkly black and emotive character drama, focusing on the inner workings of a small town Irish community.
Religious faith as a concept and its central and authoritative role within the community is constantly questioned, both by the inhabitants and at times by Father James himself. Father James, who the community appears to view more as a caricature than advisor, seemingly knows the identity of his would be killer, though he chooses not to reveal this, nor does he attempt to track down or expose the culprit. We stay with him during the week meeting members of the varied community, all of who appear to have motive of some description. Through these interactions we get to know and understand not only Father James, but are also the deep-rooted issues that have ravaged and split this community.
These interactions are at the heart of the story and whilst the inhabitants appear surprisingly eclectic and occasionally overacted, they provide the opportunity for other more personal facets of faith to be explored. Through this window we see the key and proactive role that Father James, both as an individual and a Priest, plays in this modern-day, multi-cultural Irish community. Tinderbox issues explode to the surface, dragging Father James in multiple directions, which constantly leaves the viewer off-balance, so questioning each character’s real motives.
Gleeson is simply superb in his role as the Priest who appears to owe much of his compassion to his own life experiences rather than from lessons learnt through formal training. This is not a dialogue rich role and astonishingly Gleeson appears to emote more physically than through his brogue. McDonagh encourages this by allowing the camera to linger on Gleeson for extended periods, as he comes to terms with information. You can see through one look in his eyes, his desperate situation is all too clear, although so is his steely determination to not let it alter his path. Gleeson’s relationship with his troubled daughter (Kelly Reilly) is touching and natural, whilst his moments of anger with members of the community feel genuine and raw.
As the week progresses, the clock keeps ticking and the tension continues to build. Suspenseful, threatening and at times shocking, almost Fincher-esq scenes, are interspersed with welcome moments of dark humour, which had audience members in my screening laughing nervously one minute and gasping in horror the next. The Irish landscape adds to the tension; the large ominous hills, which loom over the community, are imposing and unrelenting whilst the brisk waters of the Irish Sea, appear almost baptismal.
Calvary is a perfectly balanced, tense, taught and thrilling tale, which will leave you both gasping for breath and deep in thought as the credits roll. It never shies away from its central questions and Gleeson delivers in a role for which he was perfectly cast. No doubt, this is one of the year’s best.
Review by Will Malone
If you liked Calvary, then try Galore.