“Calvary” opens with a man in the confessional booth telling the priest that he had been abused for 5 years when a child by a priest and since he is dead he will kill the priest he is talking to now as killing a bad priest would not make as strong a statement as killing an innocent one. The confessor tells the priest that he will give him a week, until next Sunday, to get his house in order before he kills him.
As we meet each villager, and watch their reaction to and with the priest, we soon forget about the killing and who may have said the confession and issued the threat except for each day of the week appearing on the screen.
Father James, played by Brendan Gleeson, joined the priesthood after his wife died and his adult daughter Fiona , played by Kelly Reilly, feels he left her behind. As he makes his parish rounds we get to meet citizens of the town, some who could have been the confessor. There is the butcher, Chris O’Dowd, who’s wife, Oria O’Rourke. has encounters with the immigrant lover Isaach De Bankole. We enter the home of the police inspector, Gary Lydon, who is in the middle of having sex with a male prostitute, Owen Sharpe. We meet an Atheist doctor, Aidan Gillen, and an extremely wealthy man, Dylan Moran, who thinks nothing of urinating on a million dollar painting he has bought. Along with these citizens we also meet a younger priest, David Wilmot, the Bishop David McSavage, a French woman, Marie-Josee Croze, who just lost her husband and an American writer M. Emmet Walsh. Last, but certainly not least, there is a very moving scene between Gleeson and a cannibalistic murderer,played by his son Domhnall Gleeson.
There is a lot of humor in the exchanges between the priest and those who are challenging his convictions and those of the Catholic church, but as one tells him. “You are just too sharp for this parish,” which turns out to be the truth.
The screenplay by John Michael McDonagh, who also directed, goes into faith, forgiveness and the many weaknesses of man, and woman, without, obviously, picking sides. He has also filmed the picture in the county Sligo which shows off the lush greens of Ireland along with the cliffs and coasts surrounding it.
Each cast member gets a scene to stand out and they meet the challenge but it is Brendan Gleeson and Kelly Reilly, who intrigued me in the TV series “Black Box”, that command your attention during the whole film.
“Calvary” is getting 5 star reviews but I left thinking that maybe if I was Irish or Catholic or a priest, a murderer or a sinner I might have liked it better. Being a sinner I did appreciate much of the dialogue and as a movie lover I certainly admired the acting but the bottom line is that I can’t recommend the film.
By the way there are two very violent scenes and the last 2 minutes of the film, if I understood it correctly, was a stunner.