What do you say to a priest you plan to shoot pointblank between the eyes? ‘Say your prayers,’ of course. Part ‘Father Ted’, part Tarantino, John Michael McDonagh follows up 2011’s ‘The Guard’ with this wickedly funny black comedy, all fatalism and gallows humour, with both a beating heart and an inquiring mind lingering beneath its tough-guy bluster.
The mighty Brendan Gleeson – a man built like a wardrobe, with a face like he’s been left on a cliff-edge, battered by north winds – plays Father James, a good priest. In the confession box, a man tells him how he was raped by a priest at the age of seven. That priest is now dead, so it’s Father James who must pay. The mystery voice gives James seven days to put his affairs in order: the murder is fixed for next Sunday.
Don’t go expecting a priestly Poirot. This is a sly, shaggy-dog mystery. McDonagh (whose brother Martin wrote and directed ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Seven Psychopaths’) casts the best of Irish as the frankly insane locals. Any one of them might be the would-be culprit. Is it the coke-snorting cynical local doctor (Aidan Gillen)? The intellectually-challenged racist butcher (Chris O’Dowd)? There is some brilliant comedy among this lineup of oddballs. Best of all is Dylan Moran, playing a man who might be the evil twin of the shop owner he played in the TV series ‘Black Books’: he’s similarly alcoholic, foul-mouthed and self-loathing, but this time he’s also filthy rich, one of the bankers who shafted Ireland.
But you won’t find as many big guffaws as in ‘The Guard’. There’s a little less of the rapid-fire blarney, and ‘Calvary’ has its flaws – not all the characters tickle, and it’s slipshod in places. McDonagh’s brand of surreal, paint-it-black humour is an acquired taste as it slips in the big questions. What’s the point? Isn’t it all completely meaningless? Why would God create a serial killer? That’ll be a shade too dark for some. Everyone else, sit back and enjoy. And hats off to Gleeson, for a career-best – an authentic, heart-and-soul performance. Whatever the weather, he has a face you could watch for hours.
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3.3 / 5
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Loved this. Noone in the cinema moved or said a word for about a minute after the credits rolled. Not quite sure why it's being billed as a black comedy although in nuts and bolts it is a whoddunnit with comic twists. Agatha Christie meets Gabriel Garcai MArquez's "Chronicle of a Death Foretold".
Like Christie the point is that anyone of the damaged players could be the murderer, any one of them (us) is steeped in sin and "detatched". The title is a bit of a giveaway but the film is an elegant reflection on the eternal struggle to be good in a situation where anything goes. And as for the ending it, the final scene, it was devastating.
Yep black comedy it ain't.It uses humour to make even more powerful the serious issues within the film.This is ultimately a "Feel Bad" film done in a superb way.It is essentially a series of one on one scenes with powerful,moving dialogue that sets out a commentary on Ireland's post crash and post religion current situation.People have nowhere to turn to as the two previous areas they turned to ie Government and the Church have corrupted and bankrupted the country.Instead a seething sense of viciousness and cynicism pervades their characters,with dark consequences,for the local priesthood.No whistling postman here and no top of the morning to you either.Gleeson and his beautiful and sad daughter are very good and Gerry O'Dowd quite frightening in his serious role.
'Calvary' is eminently watchable, but I don't think it ever quite makes its mind up what it wants to be - religious drama, mystery (i.e. who's going to kill the Priest), or outright black comedy like 'The Guard' (the Director's previous film).
I suspect that Brendan Gleeson was asked to give the role of the 'good' Priest weight and meaning (which he does in spades, being such a fine actor), and to not go for the easy laughs. However, with the cream of Irish comic talent in the supporting roles (Chris O'Dowd as the racist cuckold, Dylan Moran as the disgraced Banker in severe need of redemption, and Pat Shortt as the angry barman - and with Orla O'Rourke excelling as the amusing, sex-hungry, coke-sniffing Veronica), it must have been hard to keep the film anchored to its original themes of abuse and martyrdom when there are so many laughs to be had along the way. If I'd been John Michael McDonagh, I'd have been tempted to let his cast off the leash and to have gone for an outright comedy.
However, whilst there is an inconsistency of tone, and a very unimaginative ending (one which does, however, ensure that there will be no sequel!), it's worth the watch for Gleeson's performance alone.
Billed as a black comedy, there are no laughs in this bleak examination of a man coming to terms with his
religious convictions. The film begins with a priest being told that, as a good man, he must die for the sins of others.
The narrative explores this theme intellectually, but does not engage the audience on any emotional level as
the paper-thin characters of the rural Irish community are brought in as grist to the mill of theological debate.
However the film does have impact, and is not easily forgotten, though one is unlikely to want experience a second viewing. In the final analysis the film lacks the poetry of the St. Augustine quote at the beginning ~
` Do not despair, one of the thieves was saved . . . do not presume, one the thieves was damned.`
All a bit empty really: with the possible exception of the lead role, the film is peopled by heavily caricatured one dimensional characters. A real shame as there as flashes of interest along the way - a film and the interactions and scenarios it depicts do not have to be believable or to smack of any kind of realism at all to be insightful (e.g. The cook, thief etc.), but when those interactions lack any real depth it is difficult to care either about them or the film as a whole.
Blackly comic, allegorical drama, sometimes a little uneven in tone, boasting a fine performance from Brendan Gleeson. Three and a half stars.