How do you survive in modern day, small town Ireland, as a good priest. That’s the rather simple question at the centre of Calvary. In a world where the Catholic church has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, we follow the last week of Father James Lavelle, (Brendon Gleeson) who in the opening scene of the film is told in the confessional booth that he is going to be murdered next Sunday. He knows who has made the threat, but we and the rest of the characters in the film don’t, as even in these circumstances he honours the rules of the confessional booth. As director John Michael McDonagh has said, it’s a who will do it, rather that a who done it.
The world of Calvary isn’t a happy one. In fact it’s about as dark as you can get. Father Lavelle lives in a small town surrounded by incredible people, but nearly every single one of them is a horrible, horrible person. His would be murderer has his problems, but the rest of the town is just as screwed up and as resentful of the world they live in. Unfortunately for him, he’s the one on the end of a lot of their hate, as they take their anger out a church they no longer believe in, when it comes to both faith and trust. This dark twisted world leads to one of the biggest issues in the film, that of the tone. The more comedic aspects often don’t sit quite as comfortably next to the serious tones as you might like and it does knock you out of the rhythm occasionally.
However, that is a small complaint in a fantastic film. Gleeson is superb as Lavelle, as you truly believe that he just wants to be a good man, but in doing so is having to fight a world that wants to see him as evil. Elsewhere Chris O’Dowd is very much out of his comedic comfort zone and he steps up to the plate well alongside Aidan Gillen as a cynical atheist doctor. Throw in a wonderfully understated performance by Kelly Reilly as Lavelle’s suicidal daughter and a disturbing appearance by Domhnall Gleeson as a serial killer and you’ve got a recipe for success. All of it comes together to create a world that is hard to believe exists, but is so insulated by the rugged Irish landscape that you believe it might just do so.
Lets’s put this simply. Your not going to go into Calvary and leave feeling happy and at peace with the world and it will never be a film you shove on and watch with a few beers and a mate. Yet despite this you will laugh as you watch this movie. Despite the horrible world it is set in it is often genuinely funny, at times even laugh out loud. However, it never loses sight of the story it is trying to tell and it achieves that masterfully. You will walk out of this film feeling slightly ashamed of the world you live in and what it can do to a good man and that is something that will undoubtedly stick in your mind for a long time to come.