Calvary Review – A Lovely Captivating Mystery

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"Calvary" from Fox Searchlight Pictures and Lipsync Productions, presents an intimate portrayal of an Irish priest faced with a personal impasse as a cast of conflicted, tortured and tormented souls pass through his remote parish confessional.


Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, "Calvary" stars,Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, and co-stars Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach De Bankole, M. Emmet Walsh, Marie-Josee Croze, Domhnall Gleeson, David Wilmot, Pat Short, Gary Lydon, Killian Scott, Orla O'Rourke, Owen Sharpe, David McSavage, Michael OG Lane, Mark O'Halloran, Declan Conlon, and Anabel Sweeney.

We meet our troubled priest, Father James, played superbly by Brendan Gleeson, in confession, protected by the veil of supposed secrecy and solace, when he is visited by a parishioner whose crushing accusations of childhood abuse come crashing through the finely knit life he has built and with that a simple statement of sentencing.

These allegations set up a week where all attempts are made to maintain normalcy with this nagging, unsettling, concern gnawing away at the strength of Father James' commitment to Christ.

Not that our priest is an exemplary character without spot or wrinkle, we find him slightly flawed, a little rough around the edges, not a easy target in thought or deed, almost above even the most sordid and gruesome details of personal confessions. Yes, for a tiny hamlet in the remotest part of Ireland, our jaded priest has heard it all. And freely admits his faults humanizing himself and forging bonds with the sorry lot of townspeople.

As Father James has heard it all, the confessional threat is certainly taken seriously and our priest begins to take precautions, not solely dependent on Christ for his security and safety, a modern priest who recognizes that while Christ provides strength, and peace in the midst of storms He also provides umbrellas, medicine and methods of protections.

 Our characters, each with their own particular struggles and conflicts lend strength and move through each scene as life in a very small town expands, through internet and the tentacles of the outside world and "big" city ooze of contamination.

Not such a dark secret in James' life is his daughter Fiona, wonderfully played by Kelly Reilly, who shows up after a suicide attempt from Dublin to spend time with her bear of a father. The two, finally, are able to connect, rehash, and say the words that each longed to hear after struggling with their own issues of abandonment throughout the years and are finally able to forgive, truly forgive, and speak it. These scenes are touching and not the drag one would think.

Not protected through the remoteness of the hamlet, the audience is treated to a series of usual conflicts, and the more violent, addictive, destructive or shocking the confession our priest meets the delivery with stoic strength, no condemnation, comforting compassion and empathy.

We meet a buttoned up bow tie porn addict, so deeply addicted and hidden behind a quite proper façade, a  rich man, who made plenty, got out before the market crash and possibly by his own assessment "may face charges."

The local adulteress, the gay prostitute, the foreclosed bar owner, the drug addicted doctor,  "Calvary" veils the "sins" or transgressions of its characters behind properly affixed facades and leaves the audience to play the game of Clue, will it be the rich man with a wrench in the confessional?

I enjoyed the film and after attending the press day and hearing the motivations for certain actions in the film I felt the interpretation can be seen in multiple ways.

As the vein of pedophile runs through the film, along with many other conflicts that taunt and plague the soul of mankind, the damages of childhood sexual assault is so deeply addressed by determination and yet not exploited or flushed out.

The ending, again, which others believed was Father James' sacrifice for the church, I felt that after his week, that is played through in chronological order, in which he handles priestly duties of his small parish where the ills of society have somehow seeped in like pollution, administering last rites, in a senseless death, speaking with the wealthiest who freely exploits his wealth to the point of pornography, to actual porn, to speaking with the local serial killer who had no idea why his crimes merited this type of punishment.

And while I generally don't giveaway the ending and won't here, I do believe our priest, contrary to others or asserted beliefs or film interpretation, has had it.

He is weakened, as a pillar the roots of his strength have been poisoned throughout the week, with many deeply injurious actions, which I won't discuss and are handled nicely. The priest has had his test of faith, and quite possibly this can be seen as the Garden of Gethsemane.

As our pillar has slipped it is also possible Father James' feels shame more than an ultimate test of faith showdown. And as God is more forgiving than man our priest's soul is at peace. His reputation however, in the very small town, where everyone knows everyone and the intimacies of each other's business, is somewhat different and therefore makes it almost impossible for him to address a congregation without smirks and murmurs. The strength of his message has been lost in a single night.

John Michael McDonagh has also added a few eccentric, "normal," townspeople, ex pat, Gerald Ryan played by M. Emmet Walsh, an elderly writer, unconvinced of his own talent and more an observer of the hidden life. Their friendship punctuates the film as it leads into the final crescendo.

With all that said, "Calvary" is beautiful. Cinematically, the vastness of the seas presents a dramatic backdrop, crashing waves against the shoreline, spectacular whitecaps; the beauty of The Emerald Isle is stunning.

"Calvary," while it seems like a heavy heart wrenching portrayal, in reality presents a true presentation of life, flaws and all. The comedic moments are genuine and reflect our own moments as we, if we dare to admit, have said, thought or agreed with as the church has been crucified, and in some as hidden evil lurks behind the façade.

"Calvary," is a must see. A lovely look into human nature, Brendon Gleeson captivates and carries the scenes filling the screen with a mastery presence.  The ensemble cast, Kelly Reilly, Chris O'Dowd and all, are given delicious moments and bring the house down with authenticity.

"Calvary" opens in select cities August 1, 2014.


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