What first hits you when you watch Calvary is the shocking bluntness of this Irish black drama. Staring Brendan Gleeson, in what could unsurprisingly be an Oscar nominated performance, this dark tale is loaded with symbolism, mystery, murder and a smirk of black humour.
Set in a breathtakingly beautiful Irish coastal town the film centres around Father James (Brendan Gleeson) a Catholic priest, who, during confession with a local man, is given the unfortunate news that he will be murdered the coming Sunday. James is a man built on integrity, an honest man, a good man, who is faced with the deadly prospect of paying for the past sins of a dead priest.
Calvary, written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, who is the creative mind behind The Guard, has many notions. The central one being, the persecution of goodness. It is through Gleeson’s depiction of a man plagued by his own past, the death of his wife, his abandonment of his daughter to enter the priesthood and the recurrent hints at alcoholism that we realise the present is somehow always pained by the past.
Other performances include Chris O’Dowd, a stark contrast to his IT Crowd years but still with a glint of devilish humour in his characterisation of Jack Brennan, the town’s butcher. Witty, friendly and almost carefree Jack doesn’t portray a man with any dark demons. O’Dowd is a talent who can play comedy against tragedy brilliantly and undoubtedly there are a lot more superb performances from him to come.
Another top player is Dylan Moran, excellent as Michael Fitzgerald a millionaire living an emotionally empty life. Moran plays Michael as dry, emotionless with plenty of indifference for his family, money and his very existence creating a character who oozes boredom and holds a sad detachment to life. It is through him that we wonder why people become the way they are and how to ask for help when we don’t understand who we’ve become.
Calvary is a hard cutting comic drama with solid performances. This isn’t a film that will take you to heaven and back, entertaining it isn’t, but it’s a story with enough nerve to wake you up and maybe replay itself in your memory.