Calvary is special. Its slow, melancholic, reflective tone takes you on a grave journey around the beautifully crisp Irish coast.
Calvary follows Father James (Brendan Gleeson) as he moves within his village, conversing with his parishioners. The threat of a murder looms like a dark cloud on the near horizon, nagging at the priest without paralysing him. This is not a detective movie however, as Father James selflessly floats from individual to individual, confronting each of their grievous immoralities. The film’s view on the small Catholic parish town is an interesting microcosm, suggesting that the ills that occur are of a result of the village collectively and the darker past of the Catholic Church.
The film blatantly alludes to the regrettable past of the Catholic Church and the often overlooked longevity of the impact of such sins. The film takes on several heavy topics with delicate hands, also highlighting the perceived futility of life and the human nature to focus on sin over virtue.
Though solemn and emotive, Calvary is not a depressing piece of cinema. John Michael McDonagh ensures in the character of Father James that the picture is rather a moving eulogy to living life with dignity and integrity. Thanks to a magnificent performance from Brendan Gleeson, Father James is a troubled yet aspirational figure, who though facing huge swathes of issues, acts with general restraint, respect and empathy. His focus is poignantly on forgiveness and understanding rather than retribution.
The film cements John Michael McDonagh, alongside his brother Martin, as a director of the highest order. Both Calvary and his previous picture, The Guard, are intricate autopsies of national establishments with more than a little dirt on their hands.
McDonagh has produced a beautiful piece of cinema. Not only is the cinematography stunning and the eclectic Irish cast charismatic, but the film as a whole is a clear and concise picture of his desires.