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Calvary: Into the Grey

August 28, 2014

Calvary movie poster

Calvary starts with a confessional scene in which the Brendan Gleeson’s character Father James is given a week to live. The camera holds on Gleeson’s face as his potential killer tells him to get his affairs in order. The killer hates the church because of past sexual molestation and wants to take it out on a good man. What follows is a beautifully bleak film that is wholly original and remarkable.

John Michael McDonagh’s follow-up to The Guard is a completely different beast. The Guard was a tour de force of comedy, violence and Gleeson as either “the smartest or dumbest man on the planet.” It played like a distant cousin of In Bruges. In Bruges was directed by Martin McDonagh (John’s brother) and featured crime elements interspersed with a whole lot of bonkers dialogue. The thing I love about Calvary is that it is a change of direction. The colorful dialogue is there, yet the material is much weightier. It has a sly fox vibe that mixes well with Gleeson’s inherit likability.

Calvay Sligo

Father James is a good man who came to faith later on in life. He is a widower, former alcoholic and father of a troubled yet loyal daughter.  You can tell he won’t take any sh*t yet is too smart to allow himself to be shaken. He has come from a rough life and that is what makes him so effective as a priest. There isn’t judgement in his eyes. He understands the world yet you can see that it tires him.

What Calvary does is wonderfully original. The dialogue, acting and Irish vistas (I loved my time in Sligo) combine to make a heady tale of modern-day religion. Everyone admits that Father James is a good man yet can’t stop reveling in their sin when they are around him. He is constantly tempted and reminded of the Catholic church’s sordid past. He is a respected punching bag who endures too much.

His week is full of interactions with the Sligo residents. They all represent something different (young, old, evil, foreign, bitter, troubled) and bring different viewpoints toward religion. The film is packed with an accomplished crew of supporting actors. Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Kelly Reilly, M. Emmet Walsh, Domhnall Gleeson, Aidan Gillen, Isaach De Bankole and Marie-Josee Croze round out the cast and you can tell they relish every line they get.

Aidan Guillen Calvary

Calvary is an original and moving piece of art. It is a quadruple threat of directing, writing, acting and cinematography. You won’t find many films that are this mature or darkly funny. It tackles religion in a mature manner and in no way makes it all simple. It goes deep into the grey and comes out warranting serious discussion. When the awards season rolls around I hope that it is remembered. Brendan Gleeson gives the finest performance of the year and hopefully it is rewarded.

Calvary is a fine film and stands alongside Boyhood as the best of the year.  I can’t wait to see what McDonagh and Gleeson do next.

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