★★ / ★★★★
A man enters a confessional and confides in Father James (Brendan Gleeson) about being sexually molested by a priest when he was only seven years of age. Although that priest is now dead, the parishioner still wishes to inflict revenge on what was done to him, thereby threatening to kill Father James—better to punish an innocent man than a guilty one so everyone is sure to pay attention.
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, “Calvary” moves at a leisurely pace to the point where one is inspired to wonder where the story is ultimately heading. I enjoyed the main character simply interacting with people in town—those who believe in God and those who do not—because a handful of them have quite a character, but the movie fails to deliver in the third act. Thus, it is most anticlimactic and one cannot be blamed for thinking what point the writer-director hopes to convey. It is not a film for mainstream consumption. Be prepared to listen and to not receive expected answers.
The script has an ear for dialogue. Each person that Father James comes across has a specific voice and point of view so even though he meets quite a number of different personalities, we remember them when they make another appearance. And because most of them, whether they know it or not, have a bleak perspective on life and may have a reason to be angry or lash out, we try to guess the identity of the man in the first scene.
A standout is the young man named Milo (Killian Scott). He tells Father James about his murderous feelings and consults whether he joining the army might be a good idea. Although the subject of conversation is quite amusing on the outside, the longer we dig into the scene, it becomes clearer that Milo is dead serious about his concerns, desperate for advice. Clearly, he has issues and perhaps see a counselor but he is given an interesting recommendation by the thoughtful priest.
Another noteworthy person is a rich man who appears to have it all but in actuality has nothing of value. Michael (Dylan Moran) often talks about his expensive paintings, wine, and property—so repetitive and superficially enthusiastic that at some point we wonder if it is a way to convince himself that what he has is enough to be happy. He speaks and his voice echoes in his palatial home, but there is no joy or laughter to make the place come alive. He does have a wife and children but they’ve left.
The picture is shot beautifully, the dark blues and grays complementing a rather cold, cheerless, and unexciting lifestyles of its subjects. The warmest it ever gets is the image of an establishment being burned to the ground and the priest feeling heartbroken at the sight of it. It is the first time I sensed rage in him—silent but absolutely there, one that cannot be mollified by mere apology.