If you understand the meaning of Calvary, the place where Jesus was crucified, then you have a good idea of what to expect in this enthralling drama about a priest struggling with his own demons and those of various parish members.
Opening scene has Father James (Brendan Gleeson), entering the confessional to hear a member confess to being routinely sexually abused by a priest when he was a child. Instead of asking for penance, he tells Father James that he will kill him in one week because he is a good priest and it would make more of a shocking statement than killing a bad priest who deserves to be killed. (the abusive priest is already dead).
This disturbs Father James but he doesn’t go to the authorities. Instead, McDonagh takes us on a tense, exploratory journey for each of the next 7 days, with weekday titles counting down to the final showdown on the Sunday of the anticipated killing. Each day Father James tends to his flock and we are given hints through the various parishioners, local butcher Jack (Chris O’Dowd), and his cheating wife, Veronica (Orla O’Rourke); American author (M. Emmet Walsh); African auto mechanic (Isaach de Bankole); a sinister doctor (Aidan Gillen); rich, Madoff type tycoon (Dylan Moran) and your local bar owner. Each character has their flaw and each can be the suspected parish confessor. The fun is in trying to figure out who confessed.
Father James knows who it is (how can he not in such a small parish) but lives each day as normally as possible. His daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) comes to visit for a few days and through this visit we learn a lot of about Father James. The journey the director takes us on is handled through various interactions and conversations that raise the suspicions of each character, anyone could be the killer, and again, none of them could because it’s too obvious. This uncertainty is what keeps you glued to the film. Father James is a good man who became a priest after his wife died (hence the daughter), but he is battling his own demons while he lives out his last few days. Each inter action with each parishioner demonstrates the depth of his understanding, patience and empathy, especially to his suicidal daughter.
Other events entice him to lash out in anger, drink himself into a stupor causing a fist fight that leaves him bruised and bloodied. But you can never forget his gentle, caring nature which is evidenced in the simplest of scenes whether offering consolation or advice.
Gleeson’s performance alone is enough of a reason to see this film. Though Jesus died to save humanity, Father James’ own Calvary is one of forgiveness, compassion and ultimately sacrifice.
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, M. Emmet Walsh
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Company: Fox Searchlight
Now Showing: DVD, VOD
MPAA Rating: R (violence, strong language, sexual reference)