Calvary photo starrating-2stars.jpgBrendan Gleeson is Father James Lavelle, a pastor of a church in County Sligo on Ireland’s Northwest coast. The province is in an outlying area, an environment full of natural beauty that is a facade that hides an ugly sinister heartbeat of assorted sinners and delinquents. The tale begins as he hears the confession of a man. The confessor vows to murder Lavelle in one week’s time because of abuses he suffered when he was a boy at the hands of a completely different priest. The congregant’s rationale is that it would be a more powerful statement to kill a good priest, on a Sunday no less. The movie then introduces us to the various weirdos of his congregation, apparently so we the audience can play, “Guess the culprit.”

Why are there so many misanthropes in this picturesque little Irish town? There’s the promiscuous wife (Orla O’Rourke). She cheats with the approval of her married husband (Chris O’Dowd), a butcher. He is indifferent to his wife’s persistent adultery with an abusive mechanic (Isaach De Bankolé) from the Ivory Coast who thinks women want to be slapped around every now and then. There’s also the rapist murderer (Domhnall Gleeson, Brendan’s actual son) who felt like God when he was killing, an atheist doctor (Aidan Gillen) with a wicked temperament, an ineffectual young man (Killian Scott) who hates women for not paying attention to him, a flamboyant gay hustler (Owen Sharpe) whose affectations come across like a reject from a failed production of Grease, and a snotty rich man (Dylan Moran) who urinates on an priceless work of art to demonstrate his contempt for life. Let’s not forget his fellow clergyman (David Wilmot), a passionless assistant who seems more like an insurance salesman than a man moved by religious conviction. Lastly there’s the aging writer (M. Emmet Walsh) that just wants to commit suicide. You will too after being surrounded by this sorry lot.

So how does a priest spend what might possibly be the very last week of his life? By keeping mum on the threat to his existence and sublimating himself in the mire of his own congregation. Brendan Gleeson is a conscientious man of the cloth with his heart in the right place. He’s mostly a positive portrayal of a Catholic father in an age where that is an original concept. In contrast, writer/director John Michael McDonagh surrounds Brendan Gleeson with a coterie of oddballs and miscreants. A circus freak show would look like the picture of normality when compared to this parish. It’s very self consciously arty. The one actually nice person in this whole depressing production is actress Kelly Reilly who plays Lavelle’s daughter. He was once married and entered the priesthood following the death of his wife. She provides a bit of a respite from the miserableness. Along the way we endure situations brought down by dialogue that challenges the very nature of what it means to produce an engaging drama. The ending is one last expression of disregard for an audience that has endured a narrative that ultimately goes nowhere. Calvary is the hill in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. And that’s a pretty good description of how I felt after this film was over.


27 Responses to “Calvary”

  1. I really like Brendan Gleeson, and my own feet touched Irish soil in County Galway not too far from Sligo. But I think I will pass on this one until Netflix can deliver it to me so my own feet needn’t leave the house.


  2. davecrewe Says:

    Can’t say I agree with the review, one of my favourite films of the year! I don’t think “self consciously arty” is a bad thing, though 🙂


    • I suppose it can be wonderful. In this case I meant that the film was overly concerned with an artistic display at the expense of showing true emotion.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it though. 🙂


      • davecrewe Says:

        Yeah, fair enough – it’s very much an allegorical/literary piece with characters as constructs, but I’d argue it finds real emotion in that final montage, even if it denies it earlier on. I don’t think art > emotion is a bad thing! I understand where you’re coming from though 🙂


  3. Ouch! This is actually my favourite film of the year so far. I absolutely loved it. Sorry to hear it didn’t work for you, Mark, but fine review nonetheless.


  4. I really enjoyed the film. Found it to be quite emotional by the end. Too bad you didn’t like it to the extent that I did, but you wrote a fine review nonetheless.


    • Thanks. I found the ending to be so hateful….and filmed in slow motion, no less. Glad you enjoyed it though. That’s what makes film discussion interesting so I appreciate your comment. 🙂


  5. Man, with this and The Rover we are on different courses this year. This is probably my favorite film of the year with The Rover in the top 10. It hurts almost that you hated this so much bc I found it so affecting.


  6. “Lastly there’s the aging writer (M. Emmet Walsh) that just wants to commit suicide. You will too after being surrounded by this sorry lot.”

    LOL, ouch!


  7. The first thing I noticed when I saw this film’s trailer was that the title was misspelled. Didn’t realize “calvary” was actually a word, and not just the all-too-common misspelling of “cavalry.”

    Aaanyway, this film didn’t look all too interesting to me. Its story looked a bit too forced, like the director did realize the subject matter was an important one to cover, but he himself really didn’t care.


  8. You know I always trust a Mark Hobin opinion. I’ll keep this in mind when entering, and that I should maybe be wary of its oppressively gloomy nature. Interesting to see you make comparisons up in the comments above to The Rover, a film I like quite a bit but can empathize with people who are turned away by its’ bleak atmosphere. Man that movie was dark.


  9. Spot-on review Mark, once again. Calvary received far too many plaudits in the UK for my liking and I was surprised so many people enjoyed it. I can see where McDonagh is coming from, but the film is riddled with tonal confusion from the very beginning – it’s not sure how to tread between black comedy and drama, instead falling into the deep chasm inbetween. Stuffing so many disparate characters into a tiny Irish village might be an allegory for some, for for me it stinks of contrivance and self-aware smugness.


  10. I did not have any idea about what this movie was about. Wish I had. It was such a negative movie. I chuckled a bit, but for the most part, I found it boring. I also didn’t like the portrayal of the Catholic Church and Priests. 2 stars


  11. Ouch. Harsh closing. I’ve generally heard positive things about this film and about Gleason’s performance, so I’m surprised to hear you weren’t a big fan. Because I’m bothered by listless narratives too, I might fall into your camp when I see this movie.


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