Opening with what can only be described as a horrifically honest confession by one of his parishioners, Fr. Lavelle is confronted with a dilemma when said confessor reveals his intention to kill the priest on the following Sunday. Telling him that he will give him time to get his affairs in order he leaves Fr. Lavelle with little option but to get on with everyday life as a receptacle for the unending scorn and spite of his parishioners. He does his utmost to make sure that they are satisfied in their daily lives attempting as best he can to help them despite their downright peculiarity, but they don’t half test the man.
Gleeson is a national treasure and he is probably the best he has ever been as Fr. Lavelle. He is by no means perfect and he clearly has a temper, but he’s a good man fighting a tsunami of rage and bewilderment. He is in almost every single scene and not once does he drop the ball, he is simply superb. The support cast are all pretty good, with the exception of Aidan Gillen, who it must be said can’t do accents of any description. It is enlightening to see Chris O’Dowd undertake a more dramatic role and he shines as a butcher whose wife has openly engaged in a relationship with the local mechanic and Killian Scott delivers the fantastically odd Milo with enthusiasm.
People may go into this expecting a similar tone to The Guard and they will be sorely disappointed because this is the polar opposite of writer/director McDonagh’s first effort. The subject matter is darker as the smart comments and wit are delivered with venom; implying a much darker comedy edge rather than pointedly seeking audience reaction. It works perfectly throughout and although there is one or two laugh out loud moments in the mix it doesn’t want your laughs, it wants you to feel every beat of Lavelle’s journey.
One or elements stick in the mind as potentially unnecessary, but they do represent Lavelle’s ability to tolerate both the disgusting and the very odd within his flock so you can live with them.
The imagery remains strong throughout; drawing on the rough seas, the stunning mountain Benbulben and, in one scene, a burnt bible that remains intact despite it’s damaged exterior conveying so much about Fr. Lavelle in this wilderness. It is as important as Gleeson’s performance.
Featuring one of the best performances in the history of Irish cinema and examining how one good man can endure for the betterment of others, Calvary is one of the best movies of the year to date.