Screened Out – Calvary

By : Stephen Miller
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Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Domhnall Gleeson

Calvary is ponderous, to be sure. It’s also lovely, bleak, troubling, witty, thought provoking, and finally, thoroughly Irish.

This is the plum role that fans of Brendan Gleeson (Braveheart, In Bruges, Mad-Eye Moody from Harry Potter) have been praying for him to have. Here, this lion of an actor ably inhabits a quiet Catholic priest, brimming with both stern judgment and a longing for mercy, for himself and the morally wobbly people around him.

The film gets right down to business within the first two minutes – a man in a shadowy confessional says he’ll murder Gleeson. He’ll kill the Father – an innocent man – for the sins of a pedophile priest years before. The killer gives Gleeson a week to put his affairs in order before the fateful Sunday of his death.

Then Calvary takes its own sweet time, teasing us with a lackadaisical pace through the nerve-wracking week. Gleeson has to decide whether to break Holy trust and go to authorities, wondering whether the threat is real. He also must provide counsel and support to the amoral adults of his parish and little seaside Irish town. It’s a twisted little berg filled with adulterers, liars, murderers, drunks, drug addicts, and even darker sorts.

John Michael McDonagh has done two great films with Brendan Gleeson - this and The Guard.

John Michael McDonagh has done two great films with Brendan Gleeson – this and The Guard.

Though downright gloomy, Calvary is often funny. The script has that wonderful sense of Gaelic gallows humor. It’s also visually arresting, calling to mind the stark, gray seaside paintings of Irishman William McTaggart.

Director/screenwriter John Michael McDonagh has worked with Gleeson before, on the excellent 2011 movie The Guard. That was a bit of a raucous comedy compared to Calvary. This movie – though often clever and funny in that dark Irish way – is more emotional, more personal.

This is why Gleeson shines. He does as much with his pauses as he does delivering his lines. The challenges to his calling and to his faith seem palpable.

The title, of course, refers to the mount where Jesus was crucified, a place he had to drag his cross to, only to be put to death. Throughout the film, Gleeson also figuratively drags his cross around, performing his duties, providing a listening ear and succor to some extraordinarily amoral, destructive, cruel, and childish adults, even as he slowly approaches that fateful, threatening Sunday where he may or may not meet his end.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Calvary isn’t for everyone. It requires an audience who doesn’t merely want to be entertained – though Gleeson’s performance is certainly entertaining. First of all, audiences must be comfortable with the themes; though, Calvary is nowhere near an endorsement of the Catholic Church so much as it is about the strength of true spirituality. The film also asks us to think and feel, and to have supreme patience that the story is getting to where it needs to go.

This discomposing, murky little movie is absolutely worth our total faith. If it’s not, please forgive me.

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