A lot of dark secrets can be revealed during confession. But what if you’re a priest and someone confesses they are about to commit a murder – yours!
During a confession an unknown parishioner confides to Father James (Brendan Gleeson) that he was abused as a kid by a priest who has since died. He then tells Father James he will kill him in a week’s time as he is a good man and that will upset the church more than killing a bad priest. Over the following week we see Father James deal with his parishioners, have a visit from his estranged daughter and contemplate his place in the village.
Written and directed by John Michael McDonaugh whose previous film The Guard also starred Gleeson, Calvary is a dark drama with a very black sense of humour. The subject matters that the film deal with-child abuse by the church and suicide among others is well explored but doesn’t go into melodrama or offer quaint sentiments. Instead it’s a character-lead drama about a village with dark hearts in most of its parishioners.
I’m mostly familiar with Gleeson for his Golden Globe nominated role as a hitman in In Bruges, and again Gleeson is excellent in the lead role. His Father James is a good man, but he is also flawed. A former alcoholic, neglectful father, these characteristics makes him more interesting than an all round nice guy and makes his character more believable too. You really feel for him as he wrestles with his conscience, does he tell the police who he suspects is the would-be-murderer, or should he face the man to try to talk him round. While it seems obvious that he should head straight to the police, you understand why Father James is reluctant to do so (and besides the police seem involved in illegal activities themselves).
While it’s Gleeson’s film he has good support from his fellow actors including Dylan Moran, Aidan Gillen, Chris O’Dowd and in particular Kelly Reilly is brilliant as Father’s James daughter Fiona. Watching Father James and Fiona try to reconnect after years of hurt is one of the few positive interactions in the film, and knowing Father James could be dead soon makes their conversations more poignant.
It may be a bit too dark and depressing for some, however for me this is a smart movie that can be bleak at times but also offers small glimpses of hope in between.
Rating 4/5 – a well crafted drama with compelling performances