Calvary is the second offering from writer-director John Michaeal McDonagh and iconic Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, and is a very different beast from its predecessor, The Guard.
We join Father James Lavelle (Gleeson) in the confessional, just as one of his parishioners calmly informs him that he has a week to live. The man on the other side of the divide plans to kill the priest a week on Sunday – he has eight days to get his affairs in order. Father James may be a good man, but the Catholic Church, the voice surmises, is not. The Catholic Church has lost its way, has allowed abuse and has failed to punish the abusers. Now is the time for revenge; not against the guilty parties, but against one innocent priest.
What ensues isn’t so much a whodunnit as a who’s-going-to-do-it. Father James thinks he knows, but we don’t. All we can do is sit idly by as he goes about his business, knowing that any one of the villagers he encounters could be the one who wants to end the priest’s life. And what a motley assortment of characters they are, too. I was reminded of Father Ted, and the array of mad residents of Craggy Island. The main difference being that most of these characters here aren’t so much mad, as deeply and irrevocably unpleasant.
TV favourites Dylan Moran (Black Books), Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd) and Aiden Gillen (Queer as Folk, Game of Thrones) are all in attendance, respectively playing the wealthy but troubled land-owner, wife-beating butcher and cynical doctor. Some of the supporting characters seem rather crudely drawn or perhaps, because they’re so unlikable, its hard to see any depth in them.
None of that really matters though, when you have a stellar Gleeson at the absolute top of his game. He’s simply wonderful as the grizzled, world-weary priest, and manages to subtly convey myriad emotions, essentially carrying the whole film, on his (thankfully) broad shoulders. It is testament to Glesson’s abilities that he’s able to do so much of the work, while making it look completely effortless, and I can’t wait to see his next film. Actually, maybe I’ll go back and have another look at The Guard, while I’m waiting.