Review: Calvary Handles Weighty Issues With Intelligence & Care


John Michael McDonagh’s (The Guard) latest film Calvary deals with some meaty issues about religion, faith and coming to terms with your own mortality. McDonagh handles the film with subtlety and sensitivity to ease the pain a bit for the audience.

Father James (Brenden Gleeson) is threatened by an unknown member of his congregation. The unknown man tells James that he has one week to get his affairs in order and that he will be killed a week from Sunday. 

McDonagh’s last film The Guard explored similar ground in a more playful way that had Gleeson giddily trudging through the film. Calvary explores more complicated themes asking what does it mean to be a man of faith in a world of doubters. Gleeson is rather fitting in his role, he is a bear of man who wants to help his flock even though he intelligence is undermined and his sentiments are undervalued. 

Calvary is the opposite of a whodunit, but still has all the trappings of a mystery(a damn good one for that matter.) Father James is on his road to ruin and the characters around the parish sulking in their own melancholy including his own daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) who is dealing with emotional issues of her own. (Fiona was born before father James took his vows.) Who proves to be his own warm connection left in this world, besides an old booze-hound writer (M. Emmet Walsh) who is on the verge of his life concluding. And finally the weaselly Aiden Gillen has a supporting role where he chews the scenery at every opportunity that arises. 

McDonaugh keeps the film grounded in a low-key story that covers more philosophical ground that you realize. These questions are masked by snarky humor peppered through the film, into a narrative that has a sense of dread and may amount to Father James’ demise. Calvary handles the brash subject matter with humor, intellect that always challenges, but is never condescending. 


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