Fans of John Michael McDonagh’s fizzy debut The Guard might want to steel themselves for the writer/director’s follow-up to that comedy-crimer. Calvary has its share of catch-in-throat guffaws but is made of sterner stuff as it examines class, race and a crippling crisis of faith to offer a state-of-the-nation lament.
Opening in the confessional box, Father James (Brendan Gleeson, who cracked wise as the unconventional cop in The Guard) hears of the sexual abuse once suffered by the unseen penitent at the hands of a priest. In a week’s time, on the Sabbath, Father James will be made to die for his brethren’s sins, and the rest of the movie unfolds as a who’s-gonna-do-it?, the suspects (Aidan Gillen, Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran) sallying forth while Father James schleps about his parish confronted by indifference, mockery and hostility.
Though varnished with a layer of self-reflexivity that might distract from the gravitas of the action and themes – McDonagh’s script wryly comments upon itself throughout and imports tropes from the western as the high-noon moment approaches – Calvary is 100 per cent sincere in its presentation of a broken Ireland. The church is held accountable, yes, but also corrupt politicians and cowboy financiers.
Dominating every scene is a never-better Gleeson, his craggy face encapsulating a lost soul with his own crosses to bear. It’s a raw, towering turn deserving of awards attention, and Calvary, though small in budget, is big enough to support it. Everyone gets their own interview slot in the extras – in the cast, that is; McDonagh is sadly AWOL.
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