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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews Calvary

April 9th, 2014 by Conor ONeill Comments

Calvary (15)
Directed by: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd & Kelly Reilly
Running time: 100 min

After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.

LIKE Nam and Vegas, what goes on inside the Confessional stays there, and this is where we enter writer and director John Michael McDonagh’s second major release. Following his widely acclaimed 2011 debut The Guard, McDonagh once again relies on the heavy-weight of Irish film, Brendan Gleeson, as lead role. Gleeson of In Bruges, Gangs of New York and The General fame, plays a lonely, unconventional priest of a fictional town in Sligo.

Gleeson – playing Father James – takes the confesson of an anonymous yet promised murderer whose reason for singling out Father James is: ‘There’s no point killing a bad Priest, but killing a good one…’ and with the threat promised to be made good on Sunday week the camera follows Gleeson’s staunchly unshaken character as he makes his way through several days of determined ministry to the odd, yet strangely familiar, folk of his parish.

Dope-smoking landlords, a coke-snorting serial adulteress, landed-but-deeply-unhappy-gentry, a suicidal American writer, a disturbing gay New York prostitute and many more all feature as items of intrigue, mayhem and well-scripted humour as McDonagh drags the eye and mind through small village life that’s as far away from Balamory as Alistair Crowley is from the Pearly Gates.

Shot against Sligo’s stunning land and seascapes, Gleeson is supported by a fantastic supporting cast that includes Chris O’Dowd of the IT Crowd and Gulliver’s Travels success, the beautiful Kelly Reilly of Eden Lake and Sherlock Holmes fame, and cameo of the year added by the much appreciated and cynically humorous twists of Dylan Moran of Black Books shakes the terrain of Agatha’s who-dunnits to McDonagh’s who’ll-do-it? Father James, with his flock of atheists, possible murderers and a lorry load of suspicions following his every word and dutiful deed, turns to his Bishop, forgoing that and turning to his highest power makes his peace, travels through shocking and unsettling scenes through testing days.

Monday, settled; Tuesday, adamant; Wednesday starts to strain as the Countdown Clock runs closer to the dreaded DUM, and Father James’ cool exterior peels. Rage, doubt and self survival all play their part. Church burnt down, beloved dog dead, carrying a pistol and returning to his heavy-drinking ways, the tone shifts from jovial quips at the psychic Mafiosi altar boy to a pungent doctor who’s forsaken the Hippocratic oath and beyond. Sligo’s shores feels more like Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man than the benevolent Irish shores reaching the Atlantic.

Fate, undeniably, must be met.

The but, and it’s a massive one, is the underlying and undeniable fact that this is a film about the Roman Catholic Church’s denial and acquittal of abusive priests. As lovable and human as father James’ devout faith and devotion to his flock’s well-being may be, there’s no denying or forgiveness to be found here. Perverted justice from a filthy pack of cards as the meeting on the beach shakes and stutters the dealer’s hand.

Forgiveness or murder?

I don’t ask you to see this film, I implore you to. Awards speak volumes, but seeing is believing.

5 out of 5 Nerds

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Conor O'Neill is at times a playwright and a qualified journalist. He has worked for the Belfast Telegraph, Portadown Times and South Belfast Advertiser. He also contributes to various online e-zines, specialising in theatre, gig reviews and other cultural events. If you were to ask him what he does, he will say 'I'm functioning'... that's a lie. Best suited to pressure and deadlines, O'Neill thrives on the moment, the passion and the thrill of now, he's only happy when he's watching or reviewing a play.

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