“Calvary” opens in the church confessional. For Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson), the Sunday begins like any other Sunday…until he hears, “I first tasted semen when I was seven years old. I was raped by a priest when I was seven for five years.” The parishioner says he wants someone to pay and he’s decided it will be Father James, “because there is no point in killing a bad priest, but killing a good priest would be a shock.” The priest is told that he will be killed on the beach the following Sunday. Father James is not quite sure what to do with this bit of news, but it certainly leads to a more than interesting week for him. Although he recognizes the voice of the parishioner, he never says who it is. Therefore, for the audience, every male in town is a suspect.
Father James is determined to live his life as routinely as possible, performing his priestly duties as normal. The pastoral community is home to some of the most eccentric characters imaginable, all of whom seem eager to engage Father James in their problems. He is often forced to ask, “Why am I here?”, either to start the conversation or bring it to a close. Making a weird week even more so is a visit from Father James’ daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly), yes, daughter. The fact that he has a daughter just adds another layer to his character. Fiona comes with her own set of problems to which Father James lends his support.
Brendan Gleeson is perfectly cast as the not-so-on-the-wagon priest with the specter of death hanging over his head. He imbues his character with warmth, humor, sorrow and weariness. It’s a quiet, but extremely powerful performance. “Calvary’s” supporting cast is very strong. David Wilmot, as the younger priest, Father Leary, provides an amusing, but sad look at someone who’s not exactly sure that the priesthood is where he should be. Kelly Reilly is wonderful as Father James’ daughter. It must be confusing to be a priest’s daughter and Reilly is enormously good at showing all sorts of conflicting emotions that one might have in this position. Other than Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd may be the actor most familiar to American audiences. A very talented actor, as Jack, husband to a wife who’s having an affair, O’Dowd is able to use those talents in such a way that one is never quite certain what his character is up to…especially in the scenes with his wife.
Although “Calvary” has a number of laughs, it is by no means a comedy. On the lighter side, the film provides an outstanding and often humorous look into the daily life of a small-town priest. But on the darker side, in its own unique way, the film explores what the years of scandal and betrayal have done to the Catholic Church in Ireland and just how far the Church has fallen in the eyes of its followers. There is one scene toward the film’s end film which encapsulates the situation perfectly, illustrating how suspect even the best priests are. “Calvary” is a gentle little film that packs a mighty punch.