The black comedy genre is not usually one associated with emotionally-entangling stories; that’ll soon change after people watch John Michael McDonagh’s tale of modern beliefs and religion, “Calvary.”
Using a black comedy approach a transformative story is a match made in heaven as “Calvary” the most unconventional of thrillers acts a mirror for today’s sociopolitical and religious issues.
Starring Brendan Gleeson (“The Guard”) and Chris O’ Dowd (“Bridesmaid”), “Calvary” is a black dramedy that while showcasing a good amount of humor and a wide assortment of complex hilarious characters it maintains a emotional gut-punch that leaves an lasting impact.
The film begins in a small Irish parish where Father James (Gleeson), a good-standing citizen and great priest, life is threatened in a confessional. The good father James listens as this member of his parish goes on about that he is not going to be killed because he is guilty, but because he is innocent. Father James has until Sunday to make his peace. Surprisingly calm about the situation he welcomes his Londoner daughter (Kelly Reilly), an emotional broken woman that is coming off a botched suicide attempt.
Father James’ life-threatening confessional sparks what is a fairly unconventional thriller as the father’s unflinching demeanor is tested when dealing with the towns cast of characters. One by one you realize any one of these people may be the one who was sitting on the other side of that confessional booth that Sunday. Each character is just in their own philosophical view of the world and the church the Father represents.
Gleeson’s Father James is a man of faith in a faithless world. Witnessing his character interact with the towns people its not hard to see the themes McDonagh tackles with his sophomore effort.
His first film, “The Guard,” also starred Gleeson- also a black comedy. Outside of these things, the two films are worlds apart; “Calvary” stories the emotional baptism of a man that as a symbol of god carries the burden of absorbing the blame for the world’s problems.
McDonagh also depicts the increased cynicism in the modern world. With banks putting people out of their home, wars raging, and the church defending those who prey on children, it makes one think about when did we all become so pessimistic?
This heavy material would be nothing without Gleeson’s performance. What Gleeson is able to convey through his performance as a town’s emotional punching bag is nothing short of amazing. In a town of sin, he is all about the virtues of man. Charming, smart and a true believer, it is clear that McDonagh and Gleeson bring the best out of each other.
The supporting cast is a fantastic as well. Reilly’s Fiona is eons different from her father, however, her scenes with Gleeson are some of the films best. The two are able to tell so much of the characters stories in short scenes, both are still reeling from the loss of Fiona’s mother, a loss that prompted Gleeson to pursue being a servant of the lord. Mcdonagh’s screenplay never lays out the whole story but gives the actors just enough to chew on that it allows the audience to fill in the blanks and emotionally invest into their history.
The towns people that includes Chris O’ Dowd’s town butcher, Jack, a psychologically scarred man who is coping with sharing his freewheeling wife with the town mechanic are just as interesting as Gleeson and Fiona’s characters. The towns people all have an individual scene with Gleeson that seems like an attack on the father’s faith, but you just can’t shake the feeling they need the father to unload all of these feelings.
McDonagh’s characters are all so broken and real a film could follow every one of them individually. They all represent seem archetype in today’s world whether it be an atheist surgeon or a bank hating small business owner, each service the story and challenge Father James’ faith.
After a hilarious directorial debut, McDonagh delves into dramatic territory-delivering perhaps one of the most gripping films of the year. Powered by strong performances and tight writing, “Calvary” is a film that requires multiple viewings just to soak in all the themes the picture is taking on. Deeply serious and emotional material with a leveled amount of humor that keeps it from being one of those films that messes up your week, “Calvary” is a true revelation.