I enjoyed John Michael McDonagh’s previous film The Guard, so I was intrigued by what looked like a more ambitious follow-up, also starring the effortlessly sympathetic Brendan Gleeson. Ambitious perhaps doesn’t do it justice, as this film widens its scope to not just encompass the minutiae of its own plot but to try and address the state of the nation in Ireland itself, and maybe even wider themes than that. It’s essentially an examination of the recent child abuse scandals within the Catholic church, as well as the financial crisis and other catastrophes, but seen through the eyes of a good priest, and viewed with intelligent humour and remarkable sensitivity.

In what ends up feeling like a sort of revisionist High Noon, the plot hinges around Gleeson being told in the confessional booth that he is going to be killed in one week, as revenge for the Catholic church’s coverup of the rampant sexual abuse of children, under the pretext that killing an honourable priest (rather than a corrupt one) would damage the church more. So he spends a week visiting the various locals, coming to terms with his own faith and the differing attitudes of those around him as well as his own daughter, before confronting his destiny with bravery and grace. All of this is anchored by a towering central performance from Gleeson, the sort of turn the film needs to succeed.

It’s a darkly humorous, thoughtful movie, that might be constructed in a somewhat synthetic style but is still shot through with humanity and compassion. It manages to somehow brutally attack the Catholic church while simultaneously making a decent case for its continued existence, which is no small feat. And it’s also a deeply reflective thought piece on the nature of forgiveness – in terms of when it should and shouldn’t be appropriate. The impact of its final moments is debatable – what might seem trite and flat for some could well be transcendent and profound for others. Any film that provokes that kind of discussion is worth spending time with.

CALVARY
Tackling the issue of child sex abuse within the Catholic church...8
...while still managing to be thoughtful, respectful and even sensitively funny9
Brendan Gleeson finally given a lead role worthy of his talents9
The closing moments which attempt something profound7
Provoking a necessary discussion about forgiveness9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
Bechdel Test Failures
  • They only talk about men
8Overall Score

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