REVIEW: Calvary

7 08 2014

Summer 2012 has been uncommonly rife with spiritual themes, from “The Immigrant” to “I Origins” and even “Wish I Was Here” all delving into faith issues on a personal scale.  Writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s “Calvary” expands even further, taking a look at the institutional level of religion through his protagonist, the unconventional Catholic priest Father James (Brendan Gleeson).

McDonagh imbues James with a unique brand of wisdom, partially due to his unusual path to the priesthood.  Father James was a normal man who even fathered a child, only finding his way into the cassock after the death of his wife left him reeling.  This background in the realm of the worldly leads him to be a more patient, understanding paternal figure for the small Irish town he oversees.

Such purity of intent makes him a perfect target for one villager, who comes to confession in the first scene of “Calvary” announcing his plans to make Father James a sort of sacrificial lamb.  This mysterious man, who was repeatedly sexually abused by a Catholic priest as a child, seeks the blood of an innocent man to atone for the sins perpetrated against him.

McDonagh doesn’t shy away from looking into the effects of priests’ sexual misconduct, both for the victim and for the church at large.  In that respect, “Calvary” goes quite a bit deeper than 2008’s “Doubt,” although that’s not necessarily a fair apples-to-apples comparison.  (The latter film takes place when the scandals were only just beginning to enter public consciousness, while “Calvary” takes place in the present.)

Sadly, McDonagh doesn’t always play to the strengths of the story and character.  The opening scene would appear to indicate that the film will follow Father James as he deals with this threat on his life.  Yet for the most part, “Calvary” just provides a rather episodic snapshot of his odd bunch of parishioners.

The film is still interesting in these portions, largely because of Gleeson’s nuanced, deeply felt performance and the wide variety of interactions he can have over the course of a week.  But the large bulk of “Calvary” does not seem to be pushing the action towards its inevitable conclusion, making the film feel a little unfocused and meandering in the process.  McDonagh’s finale arrives with a bang, though it could have been a sonic boom had the whole plot been building behind it.  B2halfstars

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One response

7 08 2014
The Pumpkin's Head (Betty J. Ogburn)

…Well, I do like Brendan Gleeson–so sign me up!!…

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