The Short- Part 2 of John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson’s “Suicide Trilogy” Calvary is a masterfully done mystery that is helped by the best performance of Brendan Gleeson’s career along with a dark comedic script and an excellent supporting cast. The first movie of 2014 I left truly speechless.
In 2011 John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson teamed up for part 1 of their “Suicide Trilogy” called The Guard, In short it was about an unorthodox Irish cop (Gleeson) who teams up with an FBI agent (Don Cheadle) to stop an international drug smuggling ring. It was a fantastic dark comedy that earned Gleeson a golden globe nomination. Part 2 follows Father James (Gleeson) a very good priest, a good man who is told during a confession that he has one week left to live before he is going to be murdered, “There is no point in killing a bad priest, but killing a good one that’ll be a shock” the killer remarks in the film’s opening scene. The rest of Calvary is a masterfully written and directed “whodunit” that is led by the best career performance by Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson embodies the role of a 21st century Irish priest in a small village dealing with a number of suspicious locals. Even during some of the funnier moments the film is carried by the banter between Gleeson and the diverse group of crazy locals, made up of a cast that includes, Chris O’Dowd (SNL, Girls), Dylan Moran (Shaun of The Dead), Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones), and Killian Scott. It is a fun dark comedy, a thrilling mystery, and in its final act a searing character drama, and Gleeson is helped by a cast that plays along perfectly. While each supporting cast member gets a moment to shine especially Dylan Moran who plays an overly wealthy and corrupt business man who enjoys doing and saying things to make us (and Father James) very suspicious. Moran is one of the many town jackasses but Killian Scott provides the film’s most outrageous and hilarious moment as he awkwardly admits to the Father that he wants to either get laid or join the army. His reasoning is basically sex and a strange want to kill somebody, Gleeson’s bewilderment provides some of the best banter McDonagh has to offer. In the film’s most important role is James’ daughter Fiona, a women struggling with depression and distance from her father she comes to visit him to seemingly help both characters make amends for their past transgressions. James being moving from England to Ireland following Fiona’s mother’s death to join the priesthood, it provides for some tension between them and a relationship in dire need of repair. Fiona is played admirably by Kelly Reilly (Flight), whose great chemistry with Gleeson provides one of the many humanizing elements in Calvary, a father and daughter working to better themselves and the relationship especially as James works to “get his house in order” before he is supposedly going to be killed. The father daughter relationship also creates new tension in the film, you are given the stakes within the films first 2 minutes and once Fiona shows up the stakes are raised.
Calvary’s script is such a fresh and honest take on how the rest of us are seeing the catholic church these days and as much as it is a reflection on blaming every priest for the sins of a few. It also creates such a sympathetic protagonist that James’ reaction and the audience reaction is practically one and the same. Moments when each townsperson gets to throw awful notions towards the father are the same moments you want to join Father James and slap each person across the face. Calvary is a wonderfully dark comedy but never does it stray too far into comedy or too far into drama, McDonagh keeps you right in the middle until he knocks you on your “arse” for the films climax.
Calvary among its other achievements is also a beautiful movie to watch, it could be used in tourism commercials for Ireland with large immersive shots of Irish cliffs and countryside. McDonagh gives you the scope of where this film takes place and allows someone who may not be a fellow traveler to understand the beauty of Ireland. Surrounding that beauty are suspicious locals and a threat that starts to seem less idle as the film progresses.
Calvary might be underestimated and seen by few as an indie film from Ireland but thanks to an Oscar worthy performance from Brendan Gleeson, a fantastic script and grade A direction it is one of the best films of 2014 thus far. An A+ effort from a group set to give us one more film in “The Suicide trilogy” and a must see. You won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen during a conclusion that left me truly speechless.