Movie Review - Calvary

Brendan Gleeson (left) plays a priest who accuses
Chris O'Dowd (right) of wife beating in "Calvary"
Brendan Gleeson stars as Father James, a middle-aged priest in a small village in Ireland. The film depicts a week in his life, as he deals with the various people in the village and their issues. Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the film seems more like a condemnation of the church, even though the protagonist is an advocate of the church and its practices. In that, it's actually slyly clever.

The premise operates as a ticking clock. Sunday in confessional, James is told that he will be killed on the following Sunday. The person confessing this is the one who is going to kill James. This person's identity is kept hidden until the end of the movie, and I don't think that helps the film.

James tells his superior about the threat. His superior asks James if he knows who the person is. James says no, but there's a question if he actually does. The question arises because he doesn't seem afraid or moved in the slightest. He doesn't call the police or try to investigate, and the only reason he wouldn't is if he already knew the answer.

Regardless, for him to do nothing about it is him allowing a murderer to walk free or unchallenged. For the entire week, therefore, he concerns himself with other comparatively more petty problems. He counsels his daughter Fiona, played by Kelly Reilly. She visits from London after surviving a suicide attempt.

He counsels Veronica, played by Orla O'Rourke. She's committing adultery and for it she gets a black eye. Yet, she won't reveal who gave her the black eye. It was either her husband Jack, the butcher, played by Chris O'Dowd, or her lover Simon, the mechanic, played by Isaach de Bankolé.

James counsels Milo, played by Killian Scott. Milo is socially awkward. He wears a bow-tie but isn't sure what to do with his life. James counsels Michael Fitzgerald, played by Dylan Moran. Michael is a wealthy banker who's feeling bitter and guilty about the blame put on people like him for the recent financial crisis and foreclosures.

James also counsels Teresa, played by Marie-Josée Croze. She's a woman who's married to a man who's in a coma and who will never wake up. Finally, James counsels Freddie Joyce, played by Domhnall Gleeson, the son of Brendan Gleeson. Freddie is a young man, a boy practically who is in prison for apparently cannibalism.

James encounters other quirky characters, including a gay male prostitute named Leo, played by Owen Sharpe, a wise-cracking, atheistic doctor named Frank, played by Aidan Gillen, and a baseball bat-wielding bartender named Brendan, played by Pat Shortt. Each one further pushes James into giving up the cloth and the collar because he's not having a positive impact and almost everyone seems to aggressively insult or knock him down.

McDonagh inserts a quick composite of most of these people holding a gun, suggesting that one of these characters is the unknown killer. McDonagh seems to want it to be a mystery. He throws suspicion on some, but none of that matters. The killer tells James that he was molested by a priest, but that priest is dead, so the killer wants to take his vengeance out on James.

The point is that the killer wants to send a message, one that implicates innocent priests alongside pedophile priests. By delaying the reveal of who the killer is and then immediately ending the movie after the reveal does nothing to explore the impact of whatever that message is.

It also questions what James thinks will happen. Does he think he can stop the killer? Because he doesn't tell anyone, except his superior, he seems to think he can handle it by himself. Yet, he is so ineffectual at talking to his flock and changing them. Why does he think he could stop the killer by himself through talking?

Also, who killed the dog?

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.


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