Written and Directed by John Michael McDonagh
Starring Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Chris O’Dowd
Father James: I think there’s too much talk about sins, to be honest, and not enough talk about virtues.
In the balmy summer months of years past, there has consistently been (at least) one gem of a film to counter program the brainless tent-pole blockbusters to which mainstream audiences flock. The candid CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER and delightful MOONRISE KINGDOM are just two that easily spring to mind from summers not too long ago. This summer cinephiles have been gifted with the multi-layered social and political commentary of SNOWPIERCER, which even on its most basic level contains visual treats for even the most discerning audience (which is more or less what our reviewer felt). As an added bonus, this summer we’ve been lavished with another cinematic present in the form of CALVARY, writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s second film collaboration with actor Brendan Gleeson (following the darkly comical THE GUARD).
The film begins in a sparse confessional, where Father James (Gleeson, whose character’s inner turmoil mirrors that of the rocky Sligo terrain in which he resides) is confided in by a man who speaks of being sexually assaulted repeatedly at a young age by a sinful, now deceased priest. The unseen confessor informs him that since his abuser is now deceased, and, more importantly, since the death of malevolent priests aren’t widely felt, he will murder Father James, a kindly large teddy bear of a man, on the following Sunday. The benevolent priest is instructed to place his “house in order” during his final seven days, and thus launches a visual countdown and detailing of his final days in a sleepy, tightly woven Irish village.
Much like SNOWPIERCER, the ambitious philosophical messages at the heart of CALVARY are subtly interwoven into the film. On its surface, the film is shamelessly about an altruistic, loving man who is being murdered in order to atone for other people’s sins, a thinly veiled analogy, sure. However, writer/director McDonaugh delves deeper into subtext by examining the pivotal roles priests play in everyday lives, the muddled relationship modern individuals have with the Catholic Church, and the destitution and poverty deeply felt by the Irish population. His razor sharp, operatic script uses dark comedy to draw viewers into his Agatha Christie-like whodunit amongst an ensemble of twisted characters that represent many of the seven deadly sins. This profound and poetic rumination on forgiveness, faith and religion will remain in the minds and hearts of summer film audiences for a very long time.
How many sheep would you give Calvary?