Skip to main content

See also:

Calvary Review: Suffering Innocence



In this film, director John Michael McDonagh, whether consciously or unconsciously presents the notion of everyone within a given group (Catholic Priests in this case) being painted with the same brush and suffering for the atrocities committed by a few. Whether some of the most devout Catholics admit it or not, there have been some great atrocities committed by the Catholic Church over the centuries (particularly since it gained political power- look up Pepin); the most recent being several priests sexually abusing children while the leadership covered it up and allowed it to continue. Whether the most ardent anti-Catholic admits it or not, there have been good priests, nuns, and lay people who have worked to make this world a better place and fought against the atrocities. Those who try to do good are often painted with the same brush as the people who commit atrocities because they belong the same group. Good cops are swept up with cops who beat and kill Occupy Wall Street protestors and African Americans (group that is often held responsible as a whole for the violent acts of a few). Refugees from other Countries in North America and Europe and swept up with terror or drug smuggling organizations because they belong to the same ethnic or religious group. People outraged or personally affected by these atrocities often take it out on innocent members of the group because they want someone to pay. In this film, Brendan Gleeson plays one such priest, or at least one who tries to do good, but doesn’t necessarily fight as hard as he should against evils.
As with the trailer, the opening scene involves a parishioner telling Father James behind a confessional curtain that he was molested by a (now dead) priest as a child. He plans to give Father James a week to “put his affairs in order” then kill him on a beach. Father James tells a Cardinal that he knows who it is, the Cardinal advises him that technically it wasn’t a sacramental confession, therefore he is not bound by his vow of secrecy and should go to the police. From that point on, the film reverses the whole whodunit formula to who will do it. It also flips the suspense thriller formula where the audience knows when the protagonist is in danger, to only the protagonist knowing who the killer will be. There is no shortage of suspects.
Father James is determined throughout the film to help people, even the man threatening his life. At one point he says that there is too much focus on sin and not enough on virtue. Many of the people in this film have been affected by a powerful institution trying to control them through the threat of the consequences of sin rather than encouraging them to reach for virtues like compassion. As a result the people have become worse, not better. There are also plenty of shocking images and dark comedy. This film will certainly affect people’s moods when they leave the theater.
This writer would recommend this film to anyone who tries to control others through fear and allows atrocities to happen to keep their power. It’s not the sort of film people would want to watch over and over again for pleasure, but rather to discuss and analyze the ideas presented. Brendan Gleeson gives a fantastic performance with plenty of emotional range and depth as does the entire cast. The directing, editing and cinematography are also to be commended.