Friday, August 8, 2014

Calvary Movie Review

Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson (r) star in Calvary

High Noon at Sodom & Gomorrah

Director John Michael McDonagh (2011's The Guard) takes more than his "fair" share of shots at the Catholic Church in the Irish drama Calvary; but the end result is both mesmerizing and spectacular to watch. Lead Brendan Gleeson is particularly effective, delivering an Oscar-worthy performance as a parish priest who finds himself in his town's crosshairs. It's a less humorous, but equally irreverent version of American Beauty... as well as one of this year's best films.

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: Calvary's Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a good priest who is faced with sinister and troubling circumstances brought about by a mysterious member of his parish. Although he continues to comfort his own fragile daughter (Kelly Reilly) and reach out to help members of his church with their various scurrilous moral, and often comic problems, he feels sinister and troubling forces closing in, and begins to wonder if he will have the courage to face his own personal Calvary.

What’s Best: Gleeson's character isn't your typical parish priest (look no further than David Wilmot's Father Leary for that.) In fact, we don't even see him pray until the very end of the movie. He also has a daughter (with an attempted suicide on her resume) and an outlook on life & religion, that seems to clash with the very institution, he's saddled with defending. Through all the turmoil (and trust me, there's a lot) Father James rises above it all with unrivaled class, polish and straight-forwardness.

As for the rest of the town, there's not a bad performance to be found. There are however, plenty of bad characters... played with near-devilish precision by Isaach de BankolĂ©Aidan GillenDylan Moran, Chris O'Dowd and Pat Shortt. Kudos also to Larry Smith for some breathtaking cinematography: Ireland never looked so beautiful.

What’s Not: Make no mistake, Calvary is not for the faint of heart. Within the first few minutes of the film, a confessor reveals, 'I first tasted semen, when I was seven years old,' and 'I bled a terrible amount.' This, before he tells the parish priest of his intentions to kill him within a week's time. That's an awful lot to throw at your audience, don't you think? Other than that, it's hard not to appreciate the sense of authenticity (in terms of acting and subject matter) and even McDonagh's unrepentant assault upon the Catholic Church. It may be a tad too serious, but Calvary is a very good movie.

Best Line: Father James is a literal pin cushion for the town, absorbing all sorts of digs... not to mention the following dead-on observation from one of "the flock." The town jezebel, Veronica (Orla O'Rourke) remarks, 'You're just a little too sharp for this parish.' On the more prophetic side, Father James laments, 'I think there's too much talk about sins; and not enough about virtues.' Good writing (tip of the hat to McDonagh.)

Overall: Hopefully you noticed my title, High Noon at Sodom & Gomorrah. The former represents the brilliantly crafted countdown to Father James' potential downfall; while the latter describes a parish filled with various "lost souls." A gay cop (and his flamboyant boy toy) a promiscuous wife, the man who beats her, a serial killer... You name it, and this town has it (and then some.) As an Irish Catholic, I took offense at (what I perceived as) McDonagh's relentless attack on the Church in Ireland; but whether he's right or wrong, you can't argue with the sagacity in which he conveys his point of view. Let's hope Gleeson and McDonagh decide to dance together at least once more... Talk about a match made in Heaven.