Review: Calvary

By Ygal Kaufman

calvaryJohn Michael McDonagh is unfortunately more obscure with American audiences than he should be.  His 2011 film, The Guard, starring Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle is one of the most underappreciated films of the last decade.  Smart, funny, depressing and suspenseful, it’s a genre all its own that plays with the craft of writing. His new film, Calvary, opening at the Darkside today, is another masterpiece with similar texture and surprising humor mixed into a dark cocktail.

Named for the location of Jesus’ crucifixion, the film follows the strange days of Father James after a man sits down in his confessional and informs the priest that he will kill him that coming Sunday. That simple jumping off point blossoms into a complex meditation on midlife, xenophobia, gun ownership, monotheism, monogamy, religion, parenting, revenge, justice and a host of other somewhat heavy items.

It also has some mystery elements mixed in that keeps the pace of the film popping while the characters muse and ponder life.  This odd juxtaposition is instrumental in keeping what could otherwise be an off-putting glimpse into our own dark souls into an inviting and humorous… glimpse into our own dark souls. 

Brendan Gleeson is wonderful as the angsty padre, and he’s surrounded by accomplished supporting actors including Isaach De Bankole, M. Emmet Walsh, Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran and in one of the most surprising turns of his career, Chris O’Dowd. But one of the most unsung heroes of both this and McDonagh’s previous effort is the beauty of Ireland.  The film is as much a paean to the majesty of Ireland’s landscapes as John Wayne movies were to the American West. But it manages to do it without being cheesy, which is an easy trap to fall in. 

It’s not an easy ride, but it’s a rewarding one, and the package is quietly but confidently delivered.  Like The Guard before it, Calvary will probably be forgotten come Oscar time, but it is one of the best movies of the year, and well worth the price of admission.

Calvary will be playing at the Darkside Cinema for at least the next week.