I haven't seen The Guard, John Michael McDonagh's previous film. I didn't know much about this film. I just sat down, flicked it on and watched. And my god, what a movie. Calvary follows the story of Father James (Brendan Gleeson), a priest who, during confession, is threatened by a man he cannot see. This man explains that when he was a child he was repeatedly raped by a priest. Now, as an adult, the man wishes to kill an innocent priest for vengeance. This priest being Father James, setting up a week of paranoia as he does things that could potentially destroy his faith.
Now, either I have a rather odd sense of humour or Calvary is an unbelievably funny film. It's a film with quite a dark and confronting storyline, and the events that unfold beyond the set up really don't hold back, especially with the final act. For a film that could just as easily have been a drama, Calvary is hilarious. Its dark sense of humour is rarely ever lost, although it's deliberately and effectively used less frequently when the climax approaches. It's not obvious in its humour either, avoiding every single clichéd comedy joke imaginable. It's the subtle humour that works best, and it's this subtle humour that makes the film as good as it is.
While Calvary's brilliance is mostly in the sensational screenplay and shamelessly brilliant direction, the performances don't fall flat. Brendan Gleeson gives one of his best performances to date. As a matter of fact, Gleeson just may be one of the finest working actors we have, and Calvary is one of his best films yet. His performance is so alive, his presence bursting from the screen in every single scene he's in.
Kelly Reilly, who plays Gleeson's daughter in the film, doesn't have as great a filmography as Gleeson, but that's not to say that her performance slacks. I would even argue that she's the second best performance in the entire film, despite her limited screen time. Everyone is just brilliant in this movie. From Reilly to Gleeson to Aidan Gillen and even to Chris O'Dowd. They all stand out in their own mesmerising ways.
Before I get on with my final point, may I just apologise for my reviews as of late. Although not bad, they aren't nearly as lengthy or detailed as some from just a week ago, but you can blame my infected throat and lack of days left in the year for that. Anyhow, the film's finale is what I really want to talk about here. It's a finale that's intense, shocking and full of tension. The whole film is built up to one particular moment and this moment does not disappoint. Calvary will be remembered for many years to come and, in part, it has the ending to thank for this.
To sum up, Calvary features all round brilliant performances, from Brendan Gleeson and Kelly Reilly in particular. It's subtly hilarious, confrontingly dark, full of tension and has a rather satisfying ending to top it all off.
4 1/2 Stars