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Sunday, August 3, 2014


Kelly Reilly as “Fiona” and Brendan Gleeson as “Father James Lavelle in CALVARY.
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight
2014, 104 minutes
Rated R for sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use

Review by Joshua Handler

John Michael McDonagh is best-known for his 2011 film The Guard, a black comedy with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle.  While I enjoyed the film, I didn't love it, so I was immediately wary of Calvary.  Calvary is a much more mature film that features a well-written screenplay and rich performances.  The film tells the story of Father James, a good priest who is told in confession that he will be killed in a week by a man who was sexually abused by a priest as a child.  Calvary follows Father James throughout that week as he tries not to succumb to the malice around him.

Brendan Gleeson is one of the best actors working today.  Every single performance of his is masterful, and this one is no exception.  With his usual wit and deep introspection, Gleeson owns this role and creates a morally divided man beautifully.  Father James is a good man, but also a judgmental one.  With each person he meets, he learns how to judge less and to forgive more.

Kelly Reilly is the other standout as Father James' daughter, Fiona.  In the midst of all of the darkness, she is the light, so to speak.  Fiona is the love of Father James' life and one of the people who keeps him from falling into despair.  Reilly's calm presence makes her a joy to watch.  Her greatest moments are in the final scene of the film.

McDonagh's screenplay is masterful.  At first, I wasn't sure where he was going with Calvary, however, once I figured out how McDonagh was operating, I fell in love with the film.  This is a movie of many layers and the themes that McDonagh explores are provocative to say the least.  McDonagh's main themes are sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the testing of faith.  Father James' goodness is tested at many points, as everyone around him is troubled.  The exploration of sexual abuse is heartbreaking, but McDonagh lightens the mood with a little of his signature black humor.

Overall, Calvary is a provocative, dark, pained film filled with great beauty.  Gleeson and Reilly are excellent and the final two scenes moved me more than most I've seen this year.  This movie will be too much for many, but for those interested in a film about redemption that's also a hard look at the effects of the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal on the people of Ireland, this is a must-see.


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