Hi everyone, Bryan Here…
John Michael McDonagh is the older brother of Martin McDonagh (the director of ‘In Bruges‘ and ‘Seven Psychopaths‘). John’s first film was in 2011 and was called ‘The Guard‘, which starred actor Brendan Gleeson who played a police officer. It was a great film. With John’s second film, ‘Calvary‘, which also stars Gleeson, the duo push the bar even further with an exceptionally great film about forgiveness and faith. ‘Calvary‘ has so many layers and perfectly mixes some very emotional segments with some brilliant dark humor, that I feel it needs to be seen by as many people as possible. This is one film that will have you thinking and talking about it for days on end.
The movie takes place on the rocky coast of Northern Ireland, with an opening scene that sets a very dark and ominous tone. We are set inside a Catholic Church confessional box as Father James (Gleeson) opens the little window and hears a voice that tells him that he has been sexually abused by a clergyman since he was seven years old.
This unseen man tells Father James that he is going to kill him in seven days on the beach. Not for molesting him, because the priest who did, died already, but because that it will make a bigger impact and statement for him to kill an innocent man for the sins of another. So this unseen man gives Father James seven days to make peace and put his affairs in order. That’s a hell of a way to start a film, right? Not exactly a happy-go lucky movie. But, McDonagh writes his characters with a complex range of humor and drama that keeps this tone perfectly fit.
Over the course of the week, Father James makes his usual rounds, meeting with the local people in town, including the Bishop (David McSavage), the intense local butcher (Chris O’Dowd) and his promiscuous wife (Orla O’Rourke), her man on the side (Isaach de Bankole), a hilarious elderly drunk writer (M. Emmet Walsh), a wealthy jerk (Dylan Moran), a drug fueled doctor (Aiden Gillen), the police chief (Gary Lydon), and his flamboyant boy-toy (Owen Sharpe).
The dialogue between everyone here is solid gold and very witty. Father James is a very good man and is too smart to be in a small town like this, as one of his friends tells him, and they are right. He has great knowledge of the world and faith that is wasted on these people in this small Irish town. In fact, everyone seems to mock and question him and his faith at all times, only to have James always take the high road and genuinely try to fix their abhorrent lives.
Brendan Gleeson deserves an acting award for his role here. He is just magnificent from top to bottom. He has such a gentle side and warm nature as we see in his very tender scenes with his now adult daughter (Kelly Reilly), whom he had before he joined the clergy. But we also see his dark side when he is pushed to far by the townspeople, and we see how defeated he is. It truly is Gleeson’s masterpiece performance. His costars play perfectly off of him at all times, especially Dylan Moran, Kelly Reilly, and Chris O’Dowd where you will see him in a different light than his normal comedic outings.
‘Calvary‘ mixes a very dark and painful story with brilliant wit and dark humor with some moments of brutal violence. The image itself looks amazing with McDonagh capturing every beautiful and traumatic moment nicely. This film works on every level and is a MUST-SEE!
4.5 out of 5 Stars
– Bryan Kluger
P.S. – Here is a fun interview with director John Michael McDonagh on the film ‘Calvary‘. Enjoy.