John Michael McDonagh’s 2011 dark comedy The Guard has become a bit of a cult hit and Calvary looks set to do exactly the same. It only received a limited release at cinemas so is likely to gain most fans from home viewings, which is a bit of a shame as it’s well worthy of far more attention.
Whilst McDonagh and his brother Martin (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) might be best known for their dark comedies, Calvary is practically pitch black in its humour, verging on straight-up drama territory. There is still some comedy in there but it largely arises from the small, individual moments and interactions between the characters rather than any major incidents.
Because it’s the script that really shines in Calvary, as is the case with practically all of the McDonaghs’ work. The plot is relatively irrelevant for large chunks, but the script is always razor sharp with plenty of satire and social commentary. It also helps that it’s masterfully delivered by Brendan Gleeson (and everyone else) who perfectly blends his compassion with anger and hurt. This is proof that Gleeson is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated actors working at the moment.
The Irish landscape also plays a big part in making the film successful, as it did with The Guard, making the area feel remote and totally isolated, as if what happens will never be uncovered by the rest of the world. Despite the wide open spaces, it makes the film feel very claustrophobic, almost Straw Dogs-like, and adds to the feeling that Father James’ fate is inevitable.
The only thing that I felt didn’t really work was that it felt a little easy to do the whole priest and child abuse angle (not a spoiler – it’s mentioned in the first scene). It’s a massive issue, but just felt a little cheap. Other than that there’s very little to criticise. Calvary will no doubt go largely unnoticed by many but it’s well worth your time if you want a film that looks superb, is on the whole magnificently written and superbly acted.
- Wonderful script
- Great cinematography
- Brilliant acting, particularly from Gleeson
- Slightly predictable in its portrayal of the clergy