Seeing as I am spending this academic year studying abroad in Ireland, I suppose it would be appropriate to review some good Irish cinema. In the starring role of Father James, the brilliant and wildly underestimated Brendan Gleeson turns in one of his most impressive acting efforts in Calvary, channeling the frustration of a man who’s spent a lifetime actually giving a shit. Sporting a thick reddish-brown mane and sounding his still-thicker brogue, Gleeson covers a great range of emotions, as convincing in his attempts to mold the children of Sligo into proper men and women as he is in sardonically issuing back-handed compliments and even some more blatant insults.
Calvary’s dialogue is probably its strongest suit. While the film is a clever black comedy with a plethora of lines that are as obscene as they are hilarious, there is also a cloud of seriousness and deep-meaning that hangs over the few players in this small-budgeted indie flick. Every jest is followed closely with an exasperated sigh, telling of the emotionally crippling environment in which these people live. Where questionable jokes about child molestation are made frequently, there is a great deal of it happening. Where people often contemplate taking their own lives, jokes about such things are tossed around haplessly. So, while the film’s overtones are rather comedic, its undertones are actually quite upsetting. I suppose this is fairly insightful, as people do seem to make light of the real problems they face in order to cope.
In addition, Gleeson’s portrayal of Fr. James as a pragmatist, a genuine caretaker of the troubled, pleases me especially. I enjoyed watching him face difficult questions and giving honest responses, not being afraid to discuss the benefits of having a sex life (a non-marital one, that is) with a man who has had thoughts of suicide, nor does he shy away from visiting a homicidal, cannibalistic maniac in prison because he truly, perhaps desperately, believes that everyone can be saved. The fact that Fr. James is a literal father, having had a daughter prior to his wife’s death and then being ordained, is reminder that a good priest treats the members of his parish like they are his own children. I am incredibly attached to this character because I realize how few people are truly dedicated to the well-being of others, myself included, and the awesome size of this man’s heart, which makes the film’s conclusion stay with me all the more.
To the more observant viewer, the identity of the mystery soon-to-be-priest-killer might have been fairly obvious. I realized this once his identity was actually revealed, although I had not picked up on any of the clues up until that point. This is always an amusing bonus to a good, unexpected ending; when you can think back and realize how many clues there were for you to pick up on. The classic example is Fight Club, and while Calvary is a wonderful film, I would never compare the two endings in regard to greatness. All the same, this film’s ending is as clever and enjoyable as it is haunting.
I highly recommend Calvary to the right person. It will upset and straight-up offend a great deal of people, but all the same, I think an equally great deal of people will find it extremely comical and also quite emotional. Capturing the sheer beauty of some of Ireland’s most precious landscapes, the film looks about as good as any other that you will see, and its score is no less entrancing. This is an expertly crafted film, any of its perceived faults are intentional and will be seen as the meat of the film by others, and most of all, those who dislike this film will likely shortly forget about it, but for those who enjoy, it will stick with them. If not for a reason other than this, you should check out Calvary.