There is something eerie and claustrophobic about setting films in small communities; perhaps Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man is a good example. Such settings have always been ideal for murder mysteries and “whodunit” thrillers. John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary takes advantage of such a setting but uses it in a very unique way. The film begins when Father James Lavelle is told that he is going to be murdered. Seated in the confessional, the priest listens to a member of his community tell of their past abuse and trauma, before they inform him of their plans to take his innocent life as a mark of revenge on those who had caused them suffering. The man who threatens Father James is no stranger to him, but they remain a stranger to us. Knowing the time and date of his possible death, Father James continues about his day to day life as a week passes and his final day grows nearer. Calvary takes a simplistic story and executes it magnificently. The opening scene is theatre like; one shot of the priest as he listens, reacts and responds to the news of his impending doom. Some of Ireland’s most amusing comedy actors make an appearance, from Chris O’Dowd to Dylan Moran. Yet, these funny men bring with them no comedy; simply malice and fear. This absence of the normal makes Calvary that little bit more unsettling and ingenious.
Brendan Gleeson gives the performance of his career as a man of God with a target on his back and the weight of the world on his shoulders. Gleeson brings humour, emotion and integrity to a character who risks falling slave to his past weaknesses and the paranoia of his situation. His son, Domhnall Gleeson, appears in the film in a scene that is ever so brief but ever so chilling. This is a film about death and is the second feature in the director’s suicide trilogy. The film has an intensity that only increases as it develops. Calvary makes for some traumatic and emotional viewing. The cinematography highlights the beauty of Ireland which contrasts the ugly nature that seems to plague this country town. Everyone could be guilty and, unusually, we are not accompanied by the film’s protagonist in the search for the culprit. The film’s score is powerful and elegant as is the script which is riddled with black humour that keeps the film moving and prevents the audience from becoming bogged down in this truly dark tale. Calvary‘s relentlessness to tell a truly outstanding story, both visually and narratively, makes it one of the best films of the year so far. It is the perfect combination of both grace and gore and has deeper meanings lurking in the shadows. It is a film I intend to revisit again and again because I think it has so much to say. A film this meaningful can’t possibly be fully appreciated, in its entirety, after just one viewing. Calvary is an exceptional film that has left me somewhat flabbergasted.
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