Facing the very real prospect of his own, imminent mortality, Brendan Gleeson’s troubled priest carries the weight of the world on his shoulders in John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary; the story of a compassionate priest dealing with the destructive fallout of the church’s history of abuse.
In confessional, Father James (Gleeson) hears the traumatic story of a man’s many years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of priest. The man, whose identity is known to Father James but remains a mystery to the audience, informs him that he will kill him in a little over a week’s time, leaving Father James with just enough time to sort out his own affairs. The murder of Father James, a blameless man, we are told, will send a message to the church that will be impossible to ignore.
A good priest will die as payment for the sins of the numerous, wicked individuals who have gone before him.
We are, in a sense, invited to play a guessing game as Father James carries out his pastoral duties in the week leading up to his arranged murder. Calvary works, in simple terms, as a reverse incarnation of the traditional whodunit. The film asks us to speculate as to the identity of the murderer before the crime has even been committed.
McDonagh’s darkly comic narrative deals with pretty substantial issues, namely: faith (or lack of), forgiveness and death in fairly broad terms; but it’s a credit to the tautness of the script and Gleeson’s wonderful, resigned performance that it never feels scattershot or lightweight. The supporting cast is a curious mix of grudge-bearing locals who inhabit a village falling out of love with its spiritual side. There’s a sense that the church is losing its footing here, as new God’s and rituals begin to usurp the positions of authority traditionally held by the church.
But it’s not the biased interrogation of an anachronism or wholly destructive representation of religion that it could, but needn’t be. As Father James doles out redemption to his neighbours and looks for forgiveness in the suicidal daughter he abandoned, we are presented with a fundamentally good person putting forth the case personal and social spirituality in a world which is lacking guidance.
Father James’s journey of spiritual and domestic reinvigoration is intriguing, periodically amusing and ultimately touching.
BD/DVD Release Date:
11th August 2014 (UK)
John Michael McDonagh
Brendan gleeson, Dylan Moran, Isaach de Bankolé, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly
Buy:Calvary [Blu-ray]