Directed by John Michael McDonagh. Starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, David Wilmot, Isaach De Bankole, M. Emmet Walsh, Pat Shortt, Killian Scott, Orla O'Rourke, Marie-Josee Croze.
THE PLOT: When Father James Lavelle (Gleeson) is told in the confession box by a man exacting revenge for a childhood spent being abused by a now-dead priest that, come Sunday week, he's going to kill him - arguing that killing a good priest rather than a bad one will have much more of an impact on the world - he's left with, he's told, enough time to get his house in order. Only there isn't all that much order in this small Sligo town, Father James having to contend with open infidelities, cocaine use, abusive language and a barely concealed hatred towards the Church. And that's on a good day.
The arrival home of his heartbroken and suicidal daughter, Fiona (Reilly), has Father James pondering his life even more, having joined the priesthood shortly after Fiona's mother passed away. He might just be the only sincere man in town, but that doesn't stop his growing sense of despair. Most of that despair directed at the often hateful fools around him, many of them, it would seem, capable of casual cruelty...
THE VERDICT: John Michael McDonagh's follow-up to THE GUARD is a surprisingly moving film. Eventually. Before that, we have all the usual black noir, state-of-the-nation humour that we've come to expect from the McDonagh brothers. As Gillen's sardonic surgeon quips, this is one-part humanism and nine parts gallows humour. Only, to be fair, the humanism is pretty strong here, with the swelling wave of tenderness a major blow to anyone who might want to dismiss the McDonaghs' work as Tarantinoesque.
Which is just a lazy way of pointing out that a filmmaker is very aware of how cinema works, and where it's been, and who isn't afraid to make a few in-jokes about it. Gleeson's stoic priest quips with his daughter after a tear-filled declaration of love, "How's that for a third act revelation?", the two having previously expressed a concern that their heartfelt conversation might turn into "one of those s***e plays at the Abbey".
It may, at times, play like Glenroe On Acid, but there's a surprising calm running through CALVARY. And most of it emanates from Gleeson, who gives a towering, moving performance in a role that could have so easily been tragically comical. As opposed to comically tragic. Just like the Church, in fact.
Great-looking movie too - not quite Roger Deakins, or Jack Cardiff, but much is made of the beautiful Sligo landscape and the wonderful light that comes with stormy weather.
Review by Paul Byrne