Review: CALVARY

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

The main theme of this near pitch black comedy can be summed up in one popular Christian adage: “What would Jesus do?” One doesn’t have to be a devout Christian, or  a Christian at all for that matter, to have a general understanding of Jesus’ story and messages.  Now, before some of my non-Christian readers completely tune out, I have no intention of using this review or forum to preach religious teachings. I feel there is a time and a place for that. I simply want to illustrate the underlying message of this comedic, but dark and tragic journey. This movie will actually appeal to not only Christians, but even agnostics, atheists or people of any religion.  It is a fictional story of a priest trying to remain true to his calling to serve people in a seriously troubled community.  It is a time where true faith is a rarity and people often let the negative side of human nature prevail and destroy.  This compelling and often provocative film starring Brendan Gleeson presents the modern climate in which Catholic priests must serve and how difficult it can be to live a life dedicated to help others who may not want assistance, but certainly need it in some form or another.

Gleeson stars as Father James Lavelle, a Church pastor in a small Irish community that isn’t all that receptive to his services.  James joined the priesthood later than most men.  Once a married man, he is compelled to join the priesthood after his wife’s death.  Though he has a daughter (Kelly Reilly), James spent the remainder of his life dedicated to serving as a priest.  This dedication has had some consequences on his relationship with his daughter.  While in his confessional, he receives a death threat from an unknown assailant who gives him seven days to get his affairs in order. During this time, James reflects on his vocation, attempts to deduce who is attacker may be, and also tries to mend his relationship with his daughter.  He also must come to a decision on how to cope with this threat on his life.

Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (The Guard), Calvary shocks and intrigues, but also delivers plenty of genuine laughs.  All of these responses come from mostly superb writing that examines humanity and its responses to melancholy and adversity.  McDonagh does an outstanding job with examining both the comedy and tragedy that result from humanity’s flaws and weaknesses.  This film is an important and relevant study of the hostile climate in which decent, caring priests must serve in light of terrible scandals and questionable practices and rituals.

McDonagh attempts to present his parable in a realistic and modern fashion, but doesn’t completely succeed by making his community a little too contentious.  The movie does beg the question, “If these people are so antagonistic, why do they even bother going to church regularly?”  Seriously, though,  in addition to his non-Christian adversaries, some of Father James’ parishioners seem to despise him and enjoy insulting him, and I have trouble believing that they would continue to attend his services regularly if that is how they feel about him. I realize that McDonagh’s intention is to present the variety of sinful activity that priests encounter in a microcosm, but it doesn’t completely feel realistic how McDonagh presents it.

Nevertheless, despite this issue I have with the story and characters, I still highly recommend this film.  Christians, particularly Catholics will probably have a greater understanding of the film, but Calvary is such a lovely mix of compelling drama, enthralling tragedy, and often hilarious comedy that anyone can find something to appreciate.  If anything, film buffs will marvel at the exceptional performance of Brendan Gleeson and laud the solid work of the rest of the cast including Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, M. Emmett Walsh, and Domhnall Gleeson.  Calvary is not anything like the usual summer fare, but it definitely deserves attention by the masses.  I must offer a warning, though, this film isn’t appropriate for all ages.  It is rated R for sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use.

 

 

 

 

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