Monday, 21 April 2014


Calvary is the second feature film from Irish writer and director, John Michael McDonagh. McDonagh's debut effort, The Guard, was a sharp, funny dark comedy that proved John had as much panache as his brother, the In Bruges writer/director, Martin McDonagh. The writer/director's second feature sees him re-team with Brendan Gleeson for a dark comedy that manages to find humour in the darkest recesses of humanity. The story centres around Gleeson's Father James, a respected and kind man who finds himself in a small country town in Ireland surrounded by wife beaters, cocaine taking doctors and violent barmen. Yet when during a confession an anonymous voice threatens to kill him due to an abusive catholic priest in the past, Father James is given a week to get his house in order. Despite knowing who the voice belongs to, Father James decides to keep the speaker's voice a secret. This creates a whodunit element which is altogether interesting. While it is fun, quizzing over who it may be is not a necessary exercise.

Calvary has been seen as the flip-side to The Guard, in which Gleeson played bent, lazy local policeman Sergeant Gerry Boyle. This time around Father James is the complete opposite. This is a character who has to carry the whole of the Catholic Church's past and present on his shoulders and it is evident in Gleeson's expertly crafted performance.

The first twenty minutes of the film feels a little like a meet and greet of the supporting cast which is made up of some of the finest talent available in Ireland. Dylan Moran plays an ex banker who made it rich on the financial pitfalls of others, Chris O' Dowd as a butcher who has little interest in who his wife is sleeping with. Aidan Gillan makes an appearance as an atheist doctor who enjoys baiting Father James daily and Kelly Reilly stars as Gleeson's estranged daughter who attempts to reconnect with her father. The inclusion of Father James' daughter does little to distract the film, aiding Gleeson's clergyman with a back story. Everyone plays their role perfectly fine, Reilly giving the best performance. Although Killian Scott's sexually frustrated, Milo, seems a little like a rejected character from a Wes Anderson film. Gleeson's own son, Domhnall, makes an excellent cameo as Freddie, a cannibalistic serial killer.

McDonagh's script manages to piece together the serious and the intellectual along with also managing to add black comedy. The writer/director managed this in his debut but it is surprising just how funny he has managed to make the film which concerns itself with such subject matters as drug use and paedophilia.There is one scene that seems a little out of place, Father James attempts to converse with a girl on a walk but their conversation is cut short when her father furiously picks her up and threatens the man of the cloth. Clearly McDonagh is touching upon certain aspects of the Catholic Church but this scene feels a little added in for the sake of it. It is the only time the film puts a foot wrong in its 101 minute running time.

The film doesn't suffer from the same pitfalls as Martin's sophmore effort, Seven Psychopaths which attempted an over complex story, resulting in a film that felt over stretched. Calvary's simplicity allows McDonagh to concentrate his efforts on Father James. John may now have two for two, so Martin's got his work cut out then.


1 comment:

  1. Nice review.

    You've written "The film doesn't suffer from the same pitfalls as John's sophmore effort, Seven Psychopath."

    Seven Psychopaths was written/directed by Martin McDonagh, John's younger brother. It was Martin's second feature.