Calvary comes with a set of high expectations; written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the man behind the 2011 film The Guard (the most successful Irish box office film to date), and with Brendan Gleeson (who worked with McDonagh on The Guard), their newest collaboration has a tough act to follow.
The riveting opening scene of the film captures your attention straight away – Gleeson’s character Father James Lavelle sits in the church confessional and speaks with an unseen male character who informs him of his intent to kill him on the coming Sunday. The characters of the film are thereafter all introduced reasonably quickly, each of them with their own immediate point of interest and part in the story that unfolds. Father James’ reaction to his death threat and his relationships with the people around him form the body of the film, and the declaration that he knows who threatened him ramps up the mystery of the “whodunit” before any crime has been committed – leaving you eager for the resolution.
Calvary is generally quite slow-paced, with the duration of the film covering the week running up to the climactic Sunday, but it is never boring. The spread of drama and violence intertwines beautifully with the portrayal of a small Irish town, the day-to-day goings on of the inhabitants, and the dynamics between a priest and his parishioners. Visually the film is stunning, setting the lives of the characters against the breathtaking background of Irish coastal countryside.
The real genius of this film comes in the way it keeps you guessing right up until the end – so much so that you fear a cliffhanger. Despite the intended outcome being told to you at the start of the film, you are still unsure as to what is going to happen as it draws to a close. Gleeson is fantastic in the main role, his character refreshingly real and flawed, with all of the supporting characters equally as compelling and human in a way that is rare in modern cinema.
A variety of controversial topics are tackled throughout the film, including the hazardous topic of religious belief, but the black humour sprinkled throughout and the refreshingly honest tone of the film means that whatever your beliefs are, Calvary is a film that everybody can enjoy the experience of.
Calvary is released nationwide on 11th April 2014.
Watch the trailer for Calvary here: