Calvary (2014) – Review

Sick of brain-bashing, overly-CGI’d, smashy-smashy blockbusters? Here’s the antidote – guest reviewer Lou writes why you should be watching Brendan Gleeson in the quiet, character-driven ‘Calvary‘…

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Brendan Gleeson is captivating, heart-breaking and thoroughly fascinating in Calvary. In a roundabout way the film addresses the church, and its exposure of historic atrocious abuses of trust that have particularly come to light over the past ten years or so.

The church is no longer the backbone of moral support, or the centre of a community, the archaic structures (as well their teachings) are falling into ruin around the country. The film focuses on one parish, it feels like there are shades of economic struggle which, when put in the mix with the state of religion, produce violent consequences. The film is set in Ireland, a very small mostly male cast and a desolate landscape give it a theatrical feel; actually I’d love to see this as a play. Notable appearances include Dylan Moran – very good, if not largely obnoxious – and M Emmet Walsh. It’s so good to see an actor of such age in a film, and still be bloody brilliant.

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Someone’s got Beard Envy

Our lead character, Father Lavelle (Gleeson) gives us intensity and humanity comparable to that of a character from a Shakespearean tragedy. But unlike Lear he keeps his mind and unlike Macbeth he has not sought to topple the installed hierarchy, instead the historic/fatal flaw is with the establishment he has signed up to: the church, religion. You watch his calm demeanour, all the unvoiced communications and you know that he is a good man; he has and would invariably be a priest that supports people and loves his job, if given the chance. We learn that he wasn’t always a priest, he had a wife and a child, – Kelly Reilly plays his daughter. I have to say that everything and everyone feels like a prop for Gleeson’s standout performance; however Reilly’s role, I think, was to highlight and add depth to the central theme of forgiveness. Calvary is the place where Jesus was crucified, translated from the Greek Golgotha meaning ‘place of the skull’. I include this detail, because through this definition we get a glimpse of the horror movie that this film is.

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“Did I leave the oven on?”

There is artfulness to the revelation in the film, a carefully sculpted story. The scenes move predominantly between the church, the barely decorated home of Gleeson and the cliffs/shore on the seafront, with the dialogue providing a lot of insight into the history of the characters, revealing their lives and the events that haunt them. The film addresses the question, what if there isn’t forgiveness? Who can we blame in the establishment? Who should take responsibility? I wonder if this feels like something those that have suffered at the hands of the church would like to see as a kind of justice. Certainly the level of destruction, the resolute hate and the single-mindedness, make for a film that is looking for answers. 

Gleeson’s, nuanced and feather-light performance is as good as it gets for me. If the acting across the board has any real downside, it was Chris O’Dowd; even as a fan I couldn’t quite find enough good things in his performance, which felt a bit thrown together. Some scenes were brilliant, but maybe he just wasn’t on screen enough altogether.

So yes, it’s another downbeat film I’m reviewing here. Next time will be something more upbeat, but with its superb acting and storyline, this dour indie gem has plenty that sparkles.

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“Shit.”

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