This timing for this one works out quite well. This weekend (1st August) sees the release of “Calvary” not only on DVD in Ireland, but is also it’s release date in selected cinemas in the United States, where it’s sure to find an audience, and start some of the debate that it’s release has seen over here.
Right out of the gate, let’s make one thing clear. If you’re planning on watching this expecting “The Guard” with a priest as the main character you’ve got the wrong film. Also, if you’re a Dylan Moran or Chris O’ Dowd fan that’s used to their particular brand of comedy, again, you’ve got the wrong film. The reason I address those two points is that they are the most common complaints that I’ve heard from this film’s detractors.
Still here? Good. What we have is a gallows humour laden drama, featuring yet another incredible performance from Brendan Gleeson and one of the more memorable rogue’s gallery of characters this side of The Commitments. These broad characters, that could also be referred to as caricatures, represent not only the exaggerated personalities you’d find in Ireland, but also the most common detractors of the Catholic church.
The plot is simple. Father James Lavelle is told in the confessional by the person on the other side of the screen that he is going to kill him in one week as an act of retaliation for abuse suffered at the hands of a priest. Lavelle isn’t the priest in question, but he has been chosen on the basis that he’s one of the “good priests”.
One of the many clever plot devices used here is the fact that Lavelle knows who issued this threat, but we as the audience do not. So while Lavelle is “getting his house in order” as his potential killer tells him to, we the audience are looking for giveaways as to who it might be.
I’d love to go into more detail on this, but I can’t. I’d also like to give away my interpretations of certain events in the film, but I can’t. To spoil any aspect of this for anyone would be a crying shame as writer/director John Michael McDonagh has created a film that represents a high water mark for Irish cinema. From the breathtaking scenery to the tightly wound script and the clever, abrasive, and poetic dialogue, this is as good as movies get. I watched this film two days ago and have been unravelling different aspects of it since then. Equally, the people I talked to that didn’t like it also admit to thinking about it long after the credits rolled. It’s that kind of movie.
If you’re looking for the “get to the point, should I watch it or not” bit, here it is. Yes you should. Do I think this is a film for everyone? No way. But I am fairly certain that love it or hate it, you will think about it. If you do hate it, at the very least you’ll have done some small bit to support Irish cinema, so there’s that.
I know this review seems a bit scant, and chances are you’ve probably read a bunch of other reviews that have given away some of the things I’m reluctant to give up, but it’s the best I can do to be satisfied that I don’t ruin the experience for anyone. Just watch it.