Named after the site where Jesus was crucified – though set in rural Ireland – John Michael McDonagh’s follow-up to The Guard manages to provoke both thought and laughter, while saying something profound about the human soul.
Its first – show-stopping – scene finds worldly wise Father James (Brendan Gleeson) in the confession booth. “I first tasted semen when I was seven years old,” begins an unseen penitent, before detailing his abuse by a priest. “Certainly a startling opening line,” offers Father James. Though he admits James himself is innocent, the anonymous abusee promises to kill him in an act of abstract, symbolic vengeance against the church, giving him time to “get his house in order” first. “Sunday week, let’s say,” he decides, brightly.
Steeped in this mixture of death and daftness, the film counts down to his inevitable reckoning, while we work out which of the eccentric parishioners (including familiar faces Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran and Aiden Gillen) is going to do the deed, like a clerical Cluedo. James knows, but instead of trying to escape, he tends to his flock’s many spiritual woes (adultery, drugs, detachment) with grace and good humour, a decent man failing valiantly. “Take a pew,” he tells one wryly. “Literally.”
As the film builds and bumbles towards its devastating climax, McDonagh interposes gorgeous helicopter shots of the sea and sky, as if God were watching passively as these preordained events play out. When it’s over, you’ll find a contemplative hush has descended on the audience: a cinema turned, briefly, into a church.
‘Calvary’ Movie Times