Film Review by Clayton Barnett
Father James Lavelle (Gleeson) is a good man intent on making the world a better place, he is continually shocked and saddened by the spiteful and confrontational inhabitants of his small country town in County Sligo. During confession a parishioner threatens that he will kill Lavelle the next Sunday, and as the week progresses the forces of darkness begin to close in around him.
Writer Director John Michael McDonagh came out of nowhere in 2011 and knocked me over with the hilarious Irish buddy cop film The Guard. So I was expecting big things when he re-teamed with Brendan Gleeson in his follow-up Calvary.
But as funny as the gallows humour is, Calvary is a different, darker beast – it’s a moving meditation on faith and forgiveness - and all the more powerful.
McDonagh really steps up the emotional stakes with a simple setup that is a ticking time bomb throughout the film. He mixes a fascinating murder-mystery (that has an oddball array of potential suspects) with complex questions about religion. Like what use does it have in modern society? Is there even a god? It’s a proper adult film that will challenge you, which can’t be said about many movies these days.
Calvary boasts one of the more entertaining, and eclectic, casts assembled of recent memory. First off Irish funny men Dylan Moran and Chris O’Dowd aptly assist Gleeson in the black comedy business. Gleeson himself is definitely put through his paces here and captivates. Then there’s stunning redhead Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes), Hollywood stalwart M Emmet Walsh (who I thought must have been dead), and even a deliciously nasty turn from Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger). McDonagh even squeezes in a brief appearance from Gleeson’s talented son Domhnall (About Time), who’s recently been cast in the Star Wars sequels.
One thing you’ll walk away with is a burning desire to book tickets to Ireland. The scenery has it’s own role, and some of the stylised landscape shots are simply breathtaking. The beautiful cinematography is aided by stunning sound design. Crisp sound effects startle as new scenes begin, such as the butcher’s knife cracking into a side of beef. Plus the use of Irish folk songs and some cracking 50s and 60s tracks (see Amos Milburn’s one scotch, one bourbon, one beer) keep Calvary humming along.
It’s hard not to be affected by this film; my friend was reduced to tears in the final scene. Great performances all round but Gleeson is the one that truly captivates. While still retaining some of the absurd black comedy of The Guard, Calvary is a darker more intense film - but it will definitely stay with you long after the credits roll.
Releases: 3rd July 2014
Duration: 100 minutes
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Dylan Moran, Aidan Gillen, Marie-Josée Croze, Domhnall Gleeson
Director: John Michael McDonagh (Ned Kelly, The Guard)
John Michael McDonagh conceived the idea for Calvary and wrote the screenplay while filming The Guard with Brendan Gleeson in late 2009. McDonagh explained the intentions he had for the film: "There are probably films in development about priests which involve abuse. My remit is to do the opposite of what other people do, and I wanted to make a film about a good priest." He elaborates that it is tonally "in the same darkly comedic vein as The Guard, but with a much more serious and dramatic narrative." Gleeson's casting was announced in October 2011. The casting of Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly and Aidan Gillen was announced in February 2012, while further casting was announced in August 2012.
Filming began on 24 September 2012. The production spent three weeks shooting in and around County Sligo primarily in the town of Easkey where the film is set and also on the beautiful Streedagh beach in north county Sligo, With some shooting in Ardgillan Castle Balbriggan Dublin followed by two weeks of filming in Rush, Dublin.