No matter what kind of artist you are, the one thing that we can all agree on is that no one ever wants to get pigeonholed into do one type of thing. "Calvary" comes from the writer/director of one of the more uproariously funny comedies from 2011 and here on his second only feature he does a complete 180 degree turn to hand in one of the more beautifully bleak films that I may have ever seen, especially considering that is the kind of thing that unquestionably demands multiple viewings.
Father James (Brendan Glesson) might be a little too rough around the edges for a small town parish preacher, but at his core he is a good man, however even they can be shaken to their foundations. When a mysterious member of his parish makes some unsettling accusations and dangerous threats his entire existence begins to unravel. Even in the face of these challenges he continues to help his troubled daughter (Kelly Reilly) and is there for the members of his church to help them with their problems which range from morally ambiguous to flat out frightening. All the while he can't help but shake the feeling that the world is turning on him and wonders if he can avoid what in his heart he knows is coming for him.
A dark, and I mean DARK film that could end up shaking some people a little more than they had every expected but writer/director John Michael McDonough turns "Calvary" into a fascinating mediation on beliefs structures and there importance and/or overreliance in modern society.
Set in the rural countryside of Ireland, John Michael McDonough paints a very stark and stunning portrait. It feels gray and grim from the very beginning and puts us on edge as our hero and main subject has his life threatened inside a confessional booth. At every turn as Father James does his rounds and talks to the people of the town we just feel like that they are trying to expel him at every turn. It's a statement on religion itself, looked upon as a misguided cure all in a rural community that was brought up believing the tenants of the Catholic church and after years and years of soul shattering crimes that range from corruption to the covering up of acts of abuse McDonough has this town turn on this one priest in a stunning and captivating slow burn that was anchored by a great leading performance.
Working together with the great Brendan Gleeson once again, he makes his Father James into a flawed, world weary man who just wants to do right by his flock and his family since he came to the church late in life. He carries himself as not a man who thinks that he is better than his parishioners but as an everyman and that's what throws him off so much when he gets the push back from these people that he is there trying to help. Kelly Reilly was solid as his daughter who is still getting over the trauma that pushed her father into the church in the first place. Chris O'Dowd shows some major dramatic chops while the likes of Aiden Gillien, Issach de Bankhole, Dylan Moran, M Emmett Walsh, Marie-Josee Croze & Domhnall Gleeson to round out this emotionally brutal but still kind of beautiful tale.
At the end of the day, "Calvary" is a rough, rough ride but I'll be damned if it isn't a compelling and fascinating one that you just can't look away from since it makes for one of the best movies of the calendar year.
5 out of 5 stars.
"Calvary" is now open at the Varsity Cinema here in downtown Toronto and is rolling out in theatres across Canada in the coming weeks.