Sunday, 31 August 2014


For a longer and more theological review of Calvary, see my review at Third Way Cafe (but be warned that there are more minor spoilers in that review):

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! 


  1. I loved and ...didn't love this movie. It is beautifully crafted and artistic, the acting is wonderful. I love the characters, even the messed up ones...wait that is everyone...with the exception of the mysterious french woman who definitely seemed to have her shit together, but she also didn't seem to fit in either? I agree the main message is one of forgiveness and with a powerful ending I felt a smal measure of relief. However I felt hopeless in the face of this man loosing the ability to help people, through no real fault of his own. Sadness mixed with frustration that people stayed stuck in their various pain-filled and or shallow lives. I want for so much more than that, even in a movie. Gaz didn't find it depressing. He said the drama was exaggerated for the sake of the film, to make a point and that no way was it realistic!

  2. Well said, Vic and Helen both. And Gaz too. I'm sitting here feeling somewhat... can't find the word. It felt too easy to be drawn deeply into the priest's life, even knowing it was heading for trouble. Feeling his pain on so many levels. I suspect the Frenchwoman was an outsider by necessity. It was necessary for him to feel his aloneness and yet have her as something of a ministering angel to him in spite of her loss. And, of course, so frustrating too. A beautiful and painful **** - two solid mugs up.