After a slow start, 2014 is turning into the best year of the century for independent-filmmaking, with film after film leaving me saying Wow! Calvary is a brilliant little Irish film written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (whose only other film is 2011‘s The Guard). I’ve seen Calvary advertised as a thriller and as a dark comedy (similar to The Guard), but, like Locke, which was also falsely advertised, Calvary is pure drama at its finest (though, like Locke, it is certainly a dark film, and, unlike Locke, it does have many funny moments and a scene of extreme violence).
Calvary stars Brendan Gleeson, in a flawless Oscar-worthy performance, as Father James, a small-town priest who seems to be losing the respect of his parishioners on an almost daily basis. Not that this is his doing. He is a good priest, trying to do his best to help those around him. But he is the face of a church that no longer seems relevant and, indeed, is viewed as corrupt and possibly evil. Shouldering the blame for all that’s wrong with the church is not easy, especially when Father James is told he has only eight days to live before one of his parishioners kills him for crimes committed by his predecessors.
Calvary is the story of those eight days in the life of Father James, eight days which are made more intense by the visit of his adult daughter, Fiona (from before he went into the priesthood), who has recently attempted suicide. Fiona is played very well by Kelly Reilly, who stands out among a great ensemble of co-stars playing the parishioners Father James interacts with during those eight days (including Chris O’Dowd, M. Emmet Walsh, Isaach De Bankole, Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran, Marie-Josee Croze, David Wilmot, Gary Lydon and Orla O’Rourke).
The cinematography is stunning, the screenplay is intelligent and subtle, the direction is perfectly-paced and the quiet score is there when needed. There are beautiful touching moments, light moments, funny moments and many very dark moments during the eight days presented in Calvary. Along the way, there are also many profound scenes about the current state of the Catholic church and about the future of the church in general. Most important to me, however, are the the ups and downs of Father James’s thoughts as he contemplates his response to the threat he has received. This, once again, is filmmaking at its finest. A very easy **** for yet another guaranteed member of my top ten films of 2014 (that’s my sixth four-star film of the year, which may be a record, and we are only two-thirds of the way through the year). My mug is up!