“Calvary” Review

The first spoken sentence in “Calvary” will shake you for days long after the end credits have rolled.

The film opens on Father James (Brendan Gleeson), a priest to a small Irish community, receiving confessions and is informed by an offscreen voice he has one week left to live. The unseen confessor admits to having been abused as a boy at the hands of a different priest and that now a good priest must be killed to make a statement and Father James has been chosen as the sacrificial lamb. “That’s certainly a startling opening line.” is the priest’s dry reaction and this exchange reveals the pitch-black yet beating heart of the movie and the rest of the film follows Father Jame’s last potential week of life as he struggles to care for those around him. Among his flock include a venomously bitter doctor (played fantastically by Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones Littlefinger fame), a butcher accused of beating his unfaithful wife (Chris O’Dowd), and Father Jame’s own daughter (Kelly Reilly) who recently tried to commit suicide. This is a town full of angry and hurting people and everyone, aside from his daughter, attempts to take out their hurt and cynicism on Father James who weathers it the best he can in the face of his oncoming possible mortality. Brendan Gleeson deserves many plaudits when awards season rolls around for his role as a good man who also struggles with being several different kinds of fathers when both sets of children are disappointed with him. Father James is not a perfect man and he admits it but what does matter is that he tries; so often people of faith are portrayed as caricatures and while “Calvary” does have such individuals to provide contrast to the good priest, Father James is a welcomed and nuanced portrayal of faith in crisis. “Calvary” is a interesting beast; it wears it’s pitch black comedic heart proudly but is also prone to moving scenes about forgiveness and family. This is film about faith but is less interested in preaching a sermon and more interested in observing how good people react to the darkness inside of others. It is a challenging film by all standards, with it’s frank discussions of abuse within the Catholic church, but does so with a steady hand that acknowledges the horrors committed by some but also provides a counter to that evil in the character of Father James. This is a film that should be seen both for the commentary on good and evil and for the introduction to a priest more prone to drinking and dancing than discussions of hell and sin. “Calvary” is out now in select theaters.

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