Calvary begins with the simple catalyst of a priest (Brendan Gleeson) taking confession, only for the person on the other side to threaten his life. It’s wonderfully straightforward and opens up a hellish inquisition. Gleeson was born to play a priest, surprisingly upstanding considering the sorts of roles he usually enjoys. Each hair of his beard tells a divine story and it alone could be watched for hours. Director John McDonagh (The Guard) concocts an Irish town plagued with sinners, fully formed but somehow feeling cast aside from the rest of the world. The film is incredibly simple and effective in its premise as the Father encounters the inhabitants, tackling morality and religious faith with the most slitting dark humour. The identity of the person behind the threat quickly becomes secondary to the discovery of every dark facet lurking within the town.
Not only is Gleeson arresting but he’s surrounded by a cast of Irish all-stars each on top form, including Chris O’Dowd, Aiden Gillan and Dylan Moran. As straightforward as it is narratively, it’s thematically rich and complicated. McDonagh shows a dexterity for language as sharp as his ability to conjure a sense of place. There still remains a mischievous and playful side to Calvary included within the gallows humour, making it an utter joy. Seven days are spent in the company of Father James Lavelle, each one musing through the same immediately familiar town on the wrong side of heaven, seeking humour through its incisiveness and morose inhabitants.
Calvary is out on 11th April UK and 1st August in the US. Running time 100 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).
Review by David Rank