4.5 stars
“I'm going to kill you because you're innocent.”

Whether it is Brendan Gleeson's astonishing performance, John McDonagh's crisp, erudite script or a combination of the two - a pairing that some have likened to Ford and Wayne or Scorcese and De Niro - Calvary is this year's must-see film. And you must. What begins with a disturbing revelation quickly segues into pitch black comedy before spreading into an insightful treatise on the human condition. It's big theme stuff on a compact canvas as McDonagh tackles religion, abuse, community, family, belonging, suicide, loneliness and faith. It's a film that remains honest even in its darkest, most outlandish moments. And there aren't many movies you can say that about.

Gleeson (Edge of Tomorrow) is the pivot about which everything turns in a small, Irish village. He's Father James, a kindly man given a death sentence by an anonymous parishioner: in seven days he'll be obliged to atone for the sins of a long dead priest. As James sets out to discover who the troubled man might be, Calvary becomes part detective story, part passion play, part satire. For in this village of the damned, Father James's task is not an easy one. There's a cuckolded butcher (Chris O'Dowd – The Sapphires), a rent-boy procuring police officer and a drug procuring doctor (Aiden Gillen – Game Of Thrones) for starters. Add a violent publican, Dylan Moran's (Good Vibrations) struggling land owner and the distracting arrival of James's suicidal daughter (Kelly Reilly – Flight), well, it's enough to turn a man to drink.

In less certain hands, this would simply tip into either earnest melodrama or absurdist farce. And in either regard it would doubtless crumble under the weight of its own extremism, for much of Calvary is extreme. It's not easy crafting humanist drama from such startling source material: consider 'I first tasted semen when I was seven' for an introductory line. Yet the re-coupling of McDonagh (who scripted Ned Kelly for Gregor Jordan) with Gleeson (the pair created the highly enjoyable The Guard) has achieved exactly that: a vivid, humanist drama. From it's coal black heart springs a funny, upsetting yet surprisingly life affirming account of a man making peace with a world he may not be a part of for very much longer.

David Michôd recently attempted to explore similarly dark, existential territory in the Australian outback, yet Calvary has everything The Rover doesn't: wit, heart, soul, a purposeful lack of remorse and, above, all, something to say. “There is too much talk about sin and not enough about virtue,” says James. Here is a minor classic bound for even greater recognition. Although Calvary may not be an easy watch as it morphs from the darkest, cobalt comedy into a piercing lament for our times, it is an unforgettable film and above all, it is a rewarding one.


Previewed at Paramount Theatrette, Sydney, on 19 June 2014

Brendan Gleeson
Chris O'Dowd
Kelly Reilly
Dylan Moran

John McDonagh

John McDonagh




100 minutes

July 3, 2014
Calvary (2014) on IMDb
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