“I think she’s bipolar, or lactose intolerant, one of the two.” – Jack Brennan, Calvary (2014)
This film is a lot shorter than I expected. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. This film is also not what I was expecting it to be. Now I’d been meaning to watch Calvary for quite some time, and much like Nightcrawler (2014), it’s another film where I didn’t get what I expected. The only difference is that I did actually quite like Calvary. Not as much as I thought I would, but a good film nonetheless. Now I suppose I need to explain why that is. That’s the point of my review. Read on and figure out why Calvary is an intricate, interesting and emotional film.
When Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is threatened during a confessional, he is told he has a week left to live. During this time, he socialises with the residents of the town he has catered to for many years. With his murder approaching him, he tries his best to untangle his life and console those that need him. With a supporting cast including Dylan Moran, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly and M. Emmet Walsh. The main parts of the cast are pretty damn good, they’re all actors you’ve at least heard of. For me, a lot of the cast, I recognise from comedy shows. Seeing them make the leap to a serious drama was excellent and I really enjoyed it.
Transitioning from a comedy to a drama is a difficult leap to make. The two main focuses of this film for me were Chris O’Dowd and Dylan Moran. I enjoy them both equally as actors. Seeing them in a drama film is excellent. Admittedly, after I watched The Actors (2003), my hopes for Moran in acting were not high. It was like trying to rip sellotape off of your face. But Moran in this film, he’s fantastic. His role was larger than I was expecting, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.
As far as the cast go, you may notice that the majority are Irish. Maybe it’s because, you know, I’m hesitating to guess, but it’s set in Ireland. I mentioned in my previous paragraph that Chris O’Dowd is in this film. He channels a pretty strong role and to be honest by giving his all, he does fantastic. I never really saw him in a truly big drama role, but Calvary proved me wrong. O’Dowd is absolutely fantastic throughout this film. I think the best part about his role in this film is that he works so well with Brendan Gleeson.
Brendan Gleeson as Father James has such a likeable charm about him throughout this film. You can do nothing but feel sorry for the poor bastard. Not just because he believes in a God, but because his life is so mundane. We see a week of his life and to be fair, he does accomplish a few things. It’s just a matter of looking at the life of a priest. Still, a lot of this comes down to the way Gleeson plays the role. He brings a hell of a lot of charm to the role and not only that but he manages to create a likeable performance. Really it takes no effort at all, he’s just a nice bloke.
Of course this film cannot evade the dreaded child actor. It doesn’t seem many films can these days to be honest. Still, I suppose he’s a bit of a small role, right? Sort of. He’s there for a portion of time but to be fair is not a burden to the story. Really the role he’s playing is just, well, I’m not sure. Each character represents something in some way, but I’m not too clear on what the kid represents. Moran represents greed and loneliness, O’Dowd represents the stresses of affairs. Every character represents something unique in their own way, but the kid doesn’t.
A lot of characters do deal with big issues. Containing them within one character is difficult to pull off but it’s done very well here. A good portion of the characters are also criticisms of the church and that too works very well. As a whole then, all of the characters were actually nice people and you could feel bad for them. Apart from Leo, he was a genuine tosser. He was a mix between an Elvis impression and a Fonzie impression, with a sprinkling of Brooklyn accent. I hated the character, and because of that didn’t get the representation of what it was trying to show.
That’s the problem with a film like this. If you dislike even one of the characters you’re meant to like or vice versa, it sort of breaks the narrative. Still, it wasn’t too big of a deal in the long run. The majority of the plot and the messages the film was trying to sell were still intact and I was content on buying most of it. The film doesn’t hesitate to tackle issues that are quite genuine and recent. It goes after priests and the way the church is presented in the modern day. Unlike W. (2008), it didn’t make me feel bad for the church though. I did, however, feel bad for Father James as a character.
Really what this film is to me is a murder mystery without the murder. So I mean, just a mystery, with the implication of murder. That whole being threatened angle does take a back seat for some time. It’s always looming over the main character of Father James but it’s not tackled directly until the end of the film.
Still it’s not that big of a problem. Overall the film does deal with the tones it presents rather competently. What more can you honestly ask of a film after that? It was shorter than I expected, and to be honest that’s a bonus for me. The film makes a creative and complex narrative in only an hour and a half, it’s commendable. Obviously it could have been better, but to be fair, it was quite a good film.
I think, for me, the biggest selling point of this film is not the plot, but the actors within it. I was there for Dylan Moran and Chris O’Dowd. Leaving this film, I wasn’t disappointed, to be honest I don’t know what to think of the ending. I didn’t make notes for the last twenty minutes of the film, I sort of just zoned out and stared at the TV. A good bit of foreshadowing in the early parts of the film only added to the finale and the final act of the film. Still, that’s what film is all about, adding to the narrative. Give it a watch, you might like it if you hate priests as much as the people in this film.