I’m not sure I will ever want to watch Calvary again. That may be an exaggeration. I certainly won’t be watching it again any time soon however. So, the movie stinks, review over, right? No. Calvary is a struggle. It is a very difficult 100 minutes to watch. To basically resign yourself to have all happiness sucked from your being for that period of time is not something one readily wants to do. Calvary does just that. It just pummels you with sadness, evil, ill nature horrible people. But here’s the thing. Calvary is one hell of a movie.
Brendan Gleeson plays Father James, an old priest in a remote parish, who is randomly confronted with a man in the confessional booth who tells him that he is going to kill him, as a way to send a message, because of abuse he received from a different priest as a child. It is an incredible way to start a film, and the concept immediately hooks you, as a good ‘hook’ should. He is told to meet the person at the beach in a weeks time. The rest of the film takes us through Father James’ week following that, as he interacts with all of the members of his parish, and his depressed, suicidal daughter. Each character he interacts with is unique and complex, but what they all have in common is their incessant sin, morally questionable behavior and in many cases flat our disdain and ill will towards other people, and particularly the idea of religion. These people flaunt their sin in front of the Father, as if it is amusing to them, much to his dismay.
It is an interesting and intriguing concept, wonderfully written, but the nature of it is that it is all driven by our central priest. Gleeson has the entire film on his shoulders, which is not something he’s always done, being a successful character actor. In his moment, he is a powerhouse. He carries Calvary on his broad shoulders and drives a wonderful script into a beautiful and haunting movie. His character is lovable yet mean and irritable at times. He is subdued, but clearly holding some signs of a rage ready to be unleashed and that’s a challenging task for an actor to perform, but Gleeson does so with ease. He is funny at times, and at times his sorrow is heartbreaking. It’s all there in this role, and he doesn’t set a foot wrong.
The support cast deliver fine performance as well. The highlight is likely Kelly Reilly, as James’ daughter Fiona. Her performance is beautiful, sad and subtle but extremely important in the films theme and overall message. Chris O’Dowd and Dylan Moran put in manic, entertaining and complex performances as two of the many townsfolk, and Brendan’s son Domhnall Gleeson has a tiny, but incredibly effective turn as a jailed serial killer who the Father visits. One of the great parts of the film is that we don’t know which of the many characters was the one who James spoke to in confession at the beginning, and they are all so equally troubled that it really could be any one of them.
The most fantastic thing about the film is it’s theme. It’s a film which is certainly up for interpretation, and which every person will take something different from. I won’t discuss in too much detail because I would like to avoid spoilers, but themes of judgement, sin, sacrifice, suffering and salvation are all in there, of course within the context of religion (Christianity specifically). The film doesn’t just have to apply in a religious way though, and it’s themes can be applied to anyone in any context with a little thought. After it’s conclusion, I felt deeply effected. The film made a strong impact on me, and many other I’m sure. I thought about it for days afterwards, and what I think it meant to me. That is a gift that not all movies can deliver.
Calvary is Brendan Gleeson’s film and he brings a beautiful but haunting script to life impeccably. It is a film that you might not exactly enjoy, and it’s difficult to say I ‘loved’ watching it. Enjoy is simply not the right word. Films are supposed to move you, make you think and make you feel. Calvary does that and more, and it’s wonderful scenery, acting and mystery elements are welcome bonuses.