Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
I loved each and every minute of Writer/Director John Michael McDonagh’s debut Feature, The Guard. It was an unconventional Comedy, but it was a blast from start to finish. When I started reading about his follow-up, Calvary, I was instantly intrigued. But lightning does not always strike twice.
Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is a good, maybe even great Priest. But after a particularly disturbing confession by a mysterious Parishioner, James is threatened and told he will be killed the following Sunday. Not knowing who the Man is, James starts to become increasingly aware of his surroundings and the people in his Community.
Calvary is a very close-knit, intimate and beautifully-shot Film where very little actually happens. The confession that propels James to start examining his surroundings is given within the first few minutes of the Film. Everything that follows feels very episodic as James visits with a number of different Characters (including his own daughter Fiona, played by Kelly Reilly in her most melancholic performance to date) while grappling with his faith and the very real death threat. Coupled with the stark lack of Music through many scenes, Calvary does not make for a particularly easy or brisk viewing experience.
But I do not think McDonagh ever intended for the Film to be easy to swallow. The confession at the heart of the Film is deeply disturbing, as are some of the actions and traits of the People populating the Community around James. While the central conflict is a bit of a surprise since it involves a Priest in good standing and not a corrupted one, McDonagh still swings indictments at the Church as often as he can. Some of them are played for laughs, but many others are not.
The Film is more dramatic than I imagined and the acting reflects this. Dylan Moran and Chris O’Dowd, both comedic Actors, show off their dramatic chops here quite effectively. They are dead-serious, even when some of their dialogue becomes a little silly. Supporting turns from Aidan Gellen, Gary Lydon, David Wilmot and Killian Scott are also well done.
However, the Film is undoubtedly carried by a near brilliant performance by Gleeson. He has always been an incredible Character Actor, but it is always a welcome change to see him as a Lead – especially when he is as great as he is here. There is a quiet sadness about the Character that really resonates as the Film progresses, especially in his scenes with Reilly. But James is a Man on the edge in most instances, and Gleeson ensures you feel all of his emotions and how drained he gradually becomes. It also helps that he is so great at delivering McDonagh’s wittier dialogue, especially with how dry some of the scenes all too quickly become.
Calvary is an interesting Film that will not be for everyone. It is heavily dramatic (often more than it needs to be), with a healthy dose of dark humour sprinkled throughout. Gleeson is amazing as always, and Leads a stellar Supporting Cast. I just wish the Film around them was not nearly so droll and slow-moving.
eOne Films release Cavalry on Friday, August 8, 2014 in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.