Calvary

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Release: Friday, August 1, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Behold, The Passion of the Brendan Gleeson.

In John Michael McDonagh’s second collaboration with the lovable Dubliner, we get to watch a good Catholic priest endure a brutal psychological and emotional beating for virtually no reason whatsoever. To the tune of Mel Gibson’s graphic portrayal of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus of Nazereth, McDonagh takes a wholesome lead and breaks his spirit slowly and painfully.

It’s disheartening to watch because this is Brendan Gleeson and despite how good he is as Father James, there’s simply nothing funny about his character, his circumstances or the things he says, will say, or be forced to say or do. Any amusement brought about by Gleeson’s jovial rotundness remains frustratingly out of reach, sealed off by walls of misery and suffering. And if all of this is indeed meant to amuse (it’s billed as comedy/drama), we’ve stumbled upon the Guinness of black comedies here, folks — this is some dark, heavy stuff.

A mysterious parishioner makes a threat against Father James’ life one sunny afternoon, and tells him — a soul obscured by the privacy of the confession booth — that he has seven days to get his affairs in order. Asked why, the voice tries to reason thus: if you kill a corrupt leader the world fails to notice. Everyone ultimately views the act as justified on the level that that individual deserved what was coming. When harm befalls someone free of blame, the shock of the injustice would surely, ideally ignite the spark of rage within the community at large.

At the risk of sounding redundant, I’ll reemphasize the cynicism displayed by McDonagh’s filming sensibilities. Specific to this considerably bleak affair, he’s a strong advocate of the notion that misery loves company. His cameras force us to trudge through a town filled to the brim with unsavory characters whose collective depravity stems from a combination of miserable luck and self-made misery. The gang’s all here: perverts, angry drunks, doctors who are also atheists. The daughter of a priest becomes suicidal after the father’s failure to establish strong ties with family after the death of the mother. Yawn. The trigger for her own personal calvary is woeful and quite honestly annoying.

Enter Chris O’Dowd, and — I’m hesitant to admit this in fear of interrupting this free flowing vitriol  — at least he contributes to the picture its most complex character. As the town butcher, he doesn’t seem to mind who is sleeping with his wife. It’s only a piece of meat after all. There’s a lonely millionaire who favors luxury over happiness (this character is nothing more than a stereotype); a wife-beater; a washed-up American writer (M. Emmet Walsh) hanging on for dear life, in a pretty literal sense; and then we have the lead actor’s own son, Domnhall in an admittedly effective and borderline cameo appearance as a completely depraved, emotionless prisoner, guilty of some crime you’re probably better off not knowing about.

stoic foolish Father James (seriously man, just get out of town) makes the rounds to all of these wounded souls and more, all while the knowledge of his possible impending death hangs over his head. One shouldn’t call it a dereliction of duties if one’s life has been personally threatened in church. You’d be forgiven for taking a sabbatical in the face of an apparent act of terrorism — technically speaking, the threat is being made against this church as well as the priest. I suppose then, there’s the ultimate conflict of not having a story to film. That’s a pretty thin veil though, considering all that this intimate window into life in Northern Ireland happens to capture.

Calvary is a visually gorgeous film, one laced with scenic vistas and rich greens and blacks (beautifully emphasized in the above movie poster). It is also far too well-acted to completely dismiss. Despite the annoyance of Reilly’s character, this is not her fault and she handles a nuanced and fragile individual convincingly. She also happens to be one of the least offensive characters on display, a relative compliment. Little needs to be said about Gleeson, who happens to extend his streak of compelling protagonists with this peculiar nonpareil.

At the end of the day, despite deep convictions and some fine performances, the final product cannot be described as an enjoyable or even worthwhile experiment. You may as well add that to the list of things it shares with Mel Gibson’s relentless bloodletting farce.

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2-5Recommendation: I really can’t say that I recommend seeing Calvary unless you possess a masochistic streak in you. It’s next-to-no fun for most of the duration as the characters, while on some level identifiable, are not ones you’d ever want to share a room with, much less intimate confessions. Kudos goes to Gleeson and O’Dowd, however, for a pair of stellar performances that go beyond acting. I at times felt these people really were this far gone. That doesn’t exactly make me feel any better about the fact that sometimes the world is just evil; that there are priests out there touching kids. A fact this film all but rails against like a child in a grocery store unable to buy his candy bar.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “I think there’s too much talk about sins and and not enough about virtues.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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17 thoughts on “Calvary

  1. Ah man, real shame you didn’t really like this one. I thought it was great! It’s bleak but I still think there’s a slight humorous edge in there too and I just love the script of this one. Plus I think Gleeson is phenomenal.

    • Gleeson was indeed phenomenal. Best thing about this movie by a long shot. (Well, the visuals didn’t hurt either.) But I just couldn’t get behind the lot of miscreants here. This town is packed to the brim with people I’d never associate with. And I’m fine with movies that feature generally unlikable characters (you can just point to any number of Woody Allen pictures for that!), but here the combination didn’t mix too well with the overtly dark story. I couldn’t find much comedy here to be honest. . .

      Good to hear it has found its supporters, all the same. Makes me wonder if this deserves a repeat viewing.

  2. Whoa Tommy boy, I think you are just miserable. Miserable that this film made you miserable! It looks way too good to be scored that low…

    However, your write-up does show a fair bit of flaws. Considering how good the idea looked, this is bad news to read in the morning! Thanks for making my morning miserable Tom!

    • It is an excellently-acted and breathtakingly scenic piece. But I had a very hard time enjoying it. Not all films are obviously created for amusement or entertainment’s sake but to label Calvary a comedy is a bit of a misnomer I think. 🙂 Thanks for stopping in Keith

  3. Maybe it’s just my inner masochistic streak but I got a lot out of this. Also, maybe because I’m a quarter Irish too! I certainly hear what you’re saying, but I found the film to be an absorbing watch.

    • Good on ya man, I might have to re-watch this one at some point. I just couldn’t find an access point into this community since there were nothing but apparent deviants running amok. What a terribly deranged place this is. Reminds me of the kind of incestuous Mormon fundamentalist towns i’ve read about in Jon Krakeur’s ‘Under the Banner of Heaven.’ lol

  4. Well argued review Tom. I actually really liked this, for me the dark comedy did translate. But it was the growing sense of dread, the atmosphere, the location – all of this in tandem with some excellent performances and a guessing game – really grasped me. Hey, at least we agree on something: I gave it four too…

    …out of five, admittedly. Ha! 🙂

    Adam.

    • Hahah! Nice. The scores *almost* translate. 😉

      It’s good to hear you got a kick out of it. I wanted to. Oh so badly. I couldn’t get behind these characters unfortunately. I will say I didn’t so much hate the way this ends as much as I detested the ‘dark forces’ closing in around him. Why didn’t he just flee? Too much pride, perhaps?

      • I think it was something like that, yeah. For me it’s two fold: in some ways he feels a sense of guilt, perhaps driven by his recently tainted profession, and in other ways he – as a priest – carries the weight of healing. Maybe he reckons he can ‘heal’ the perpetrator before any crime is committed. It’s an interesting discussion!

        • Yes and that’s an interesting way of looking at it. I kind of felt throughout that there was a remote possibility he was going to be able to transcend and without giving anything away, this movie just kept surprising me. Calvary is quite good at bucking genre cliches, I’ll give it that also

          • Spot on mate. The film actually grew on me the more it went on, to the point where I felt better towards it hours after the end credits. I completely agree with you on Kelly Reilly’s character. She’s great but it’s such a sloppily written persona, which is odd given the writer’s history!

    • “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again. . .” lol!!!

      That song keeps replaying in the back of my mind thinking about this. It is kind of a yucky movie, Mutey, I won’t lie. There are those movies that leave one feeling kind of down-and-out but they were at least really solid flicks that had likable characters you could get behind!

  5. This was an exercise in misery.

    “Seriously man, just get out of town.” Good advice. Or perhaps, ya know, contact the police when some threatens to kill you? Um I don’t know. Just a thought.

    Nice review.

    • To be honest Mark I reflected a lot upon what you had to say about it and couldn’t agree more with you. Before seeing the movie I didn’t quite ‘get’ the level of depravity, but then seeing it. . .yes it’s pretty unbelievable how many of these types live in one small seaside town! Haha.

      For what it’s worth I did still enjoy Gleeson but not as much as I would have liked.

      Thanks!

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