‘Calvary’: Sobering Chronicle of Indiscriminate Damnation


There is an old adage that goes,  “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.”  While it wouldn’t be fair to utterly summarize Calvary via this adage, it is indeed related.  With that being said, this production is just a tad too complex to monolithically pigeon-hole.

Set in Ireland and written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, Calvary is the story of  Father James,  portrayed by Brendan Gleeson  (Troy and Gangs Of New York).  Father James is a well-respected priest in a small community outside of Dublin.

One Sunday while inside of a confessional, Father James speaks with a man who confesses that he had been repeatedly raped for five years by a now deceased priest. The man also finally reveals that he will murder Father James for being a good priest.   He instructs Father James that he will give him a week to get his affairs in order and that he will meet him the next Sunday to do the deed.

From here McDonagh further introduces the good Father James.  It becomes apparent why the mystery rape victim considers Father James a good priest.  Father James is beset by the decadence he experiences in his community.

Since the community is small Father James alone serves as the go-to man of faith.  He is trusted, which renders him privy to nearly every secret amongst the town folk, from their adulterous affairs and sexual fantasies, to their recreational drug habits.

Chris O’Dowd co-stars in a powerhouse role as Jack Brennan.  Jack is the local butcher, whose wife Veronica is having an affair with a Black African man, which does not disturb Jack.  Veronica is shielding a black eye behind large dark sun glasses and Father James tries to ascertain if the black eye was courtesy of Jack or Simon the African. Ultimately, no one appreciates his concern.

Father James is visited by his adult daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) whom he fathered in marriage before he became a priest.  Their relationship too is wrought with its manageable share of dysfunction.  He has told her nothing of the death threat as he garners a pistol and begins to see aspects of his once orderly life unravel.  His church is set ablaze which serves as only one precursor to his impending doom.

While Gleeson delivers a fine performance as Father James, it is the immense versatility of supporting actor Chris O’Dowd as Jack the butcher that seasons this production.  It seems O’Dowd is popping up in every other film production over the past few years.  He’s a chameleon of  sorts who keenly blends himself into any role he chooses to take.

From comedy to melodrama and routes in between, O’Dowd is simply another one of those Oscar winners waiting to happen.  When O’Dowd is cast in a film, it’s a given that even if the film doesn’t rate well, at least his performance will be worth the price of admission.

Calvary serves as an examination of damnation.  McDonagh seems to examine the subtleties between the saint and the sinner.  It’s often been noted that the line between the two can indeed be blurred.

McDonagh successfully keeps the viewer focused on the production at hand. While the films essence is low and slow the motion  is continuous and does not fatigue the viewer. Viewers look forward to the finale to find out if Father James meets his end, and McDonagh successfully delivers an unforgettably sobering climax.

The movie is rated R for adult sexual dialogue and graphic violence, Calvary runs for 100 minutes.  It is in limited release and can be seen in selected theaters.

It gets five out of five stars.

By Janet Walters Levite

Reprisal Films Calvary

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