“Calvary” Challenging, Disturbing, Bleakly Funny
By Skip Sheffield
“Calvary” is a provocative, disturbing, yet at times darkly funny movie anchored by a bravura performance by the brilliant Irish actor Brendan Gleeson.
The title should have been a dead giveaway. Brenden Gleeson plays Father James Lavelle, a truly good priest in this parallel parable about the contemporary Catholic Church by writer-director John Michael McDonagh. John Michael’s brother Martin McDonagh wrote and directed “In Bruges,” which also starred Brendan Gleeson, and John Michael’s previous film, “The Guard,” also starred Gleeson.
Father James is no ordinary priest. He was married and has a lovely, troubled daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) whom he is trying to lift from the depths of depression. Father James became a priest when his wife died.
The fate of Father James is foreshadowed at the outset. Father James hears the confession of a man who says he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a boy. Father James listens attentively, and then the man gets to the point.
“I am going to kill you,” he says. “I am going to kill you not because you are a bad priest but because you are a good priest. You have one week to get your affairs in order.”
So begins a countdown with each day denoted. It seems that everyone in this beautiful little seaside village near Sligo in the west of Ireland is mightily messed up. Butcher Jack Brennan (Chris O’Dowd) is a cuckold whose wife Veronica (Oria O’Rourke) is, to put it bluntly, a slut. Her current lover is an African auto mechanic named Simon (Isaach De Bankole).
The younger parish priest, Father Leary (David Wilmot) is a callow, shallow man. Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran), the richest man in town, is a mean, miserable drunk, whose wife and children have abandoned him. The constable, Inspector Stanton, carries on with young male prostitutes. The town physician, Dr. Frank Harte (Aiden Gillen) is a bitter atheist with contempt for victims. The token American is an expatriate writer (M. Emmet Walsh) who is old and at the end of his career and contemplating suicide.
If this is a comedy it is as dark as it can get. If you have even a passing knowledge of The Bible, you know who Father James represents. With sin, chaos and wickedness all around him, Father James is as calm, serene and dignified as that figure. One thing for certain, Brendan Gleeson is nothing short of an Irish national treasure.