Thursday, July 09, 2015

Calvary (2014 film)

Written and directed by John Michael McDonough, Calvary is the story in the week of a life of a priest who starts to feel doubt following a threat from an anonymous man. The film isn’t just an exploration about faith but also doubt where a priest contends with those in his parish mocking its ideas while he is trying to help his troubled daughter who has recovered from a suicide attempt. Starring Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Domhnall Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Isaach de Bankole, Dylan Moran, and Aidan Gillen. Calvary is a mesmerizing yet riveting film from John Michael McDonough.

Set in an entire week in a small town in Ireland, the film revolves a priest who receives a threat during confession stating that he will be killed on the next Sunday for sins that other priests had done to him when he was a child. The film is a study into a man’s life on what could be his final week as he receives a visit from his daughter who is recovering from a suicide attempt while he does his duty as a priest. Along the way, he deals with locals whom he suspects is the one making this threat while certain events would happen wouldn’t just test his faith but also raise questions about his own duties as a man.

Even as the character of Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is trying to be a good man and do good for others while being aware that he is very flawed. That is part of the brilliance in the film’s screenplay that John Michael McDonough creates where it’s not just a character study but also a mystery where Father James ponders who wants him dead and if he could really help this person. There are also characters who do see Father James help such as a millionaire named Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran) who is going through a crisis of his own despite the fact that he’s an unpleasant man. At the same time, Father James deals with other things in his small town that makes him question his own faith.

McDonough’s direction is very engaging for the way he opens the film with this static shot of Father James listening to a confession from the person who would ruin him for an entire week. It lasts for a few minutes in an entirely unbroken take as it plays into the sense of dread that would loom throughout the film. While it is largely a suspense-drama, McDonough manages to put in a few quirks as it relates to the world that Father James is in as there are characters he encounters who are either good or just those that are immoral. McDonough’s approach to framing with his usage of wide and medium shots, along with close-ups, play into Father James own sense of detachment from what is happening to him as he struggles to find meaning into his role with the world. Especially as it relates to his own daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) who is seeking help as she becomes a reason for Father James to do something good as he is also trying to repair their own relationship in what could be his final days. Overall, McDonough creates an intriguing yet compelling drama about a priest’s encounter with doubt.

Cinematographer Larry Smith does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography in capturing not just the Irish landscapes and mountains but also in some of the scenes set at night for some intricate lighting including the interiors at the pubs where many of the characters go to. Editor Chris Gill does nice work with the editing as it is quite straightforward with a few stylish cuts to play into the air of suspense. Production designer Mark Geraghty and art director Fiona Daly do brilliant work with the look of the church that Father James works at as well as some of the places including the pub where most of the characters frequent. Costume designer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh does wonderful work with the costumes as it is mostly casual with the exception of the robes that Father James wears.

Visual effects supervisor Sheila Wickens does terrific work with the film‘s minimal visual effects for a dream sequence Father James would have involving his daughter as it plays into the events of what could be his last day. Sound editor Ian Wilson does superb work with the sound to play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as some sound effects for a few key scenes. The film’s music by Patrick Cassidy is amazing for its traditional-based Irish folk music along with some orchestral pieces to play into the drama while music supervisor Liz Gallacher brings in a soundtrack that doesn’t just feature traditional Irish folk music but also rock and blues music that Father James and some of the other characters listen to.

The casting by Jina Jay is fantastic as it features notable small performances from Domhnall Gleeson as a former pupil of Father James who is serving time for murder, Owen Sharp as a young boy named Leo, David McSavage as a bishop whom Father Jay turns to for guidance, Marie-Josee Croze as a Frenchwoman whose husband is critically injured from a car accident who turns to Father James for comfort, Killian Scott as a young man named Milo who is unsure of what to do with his life, Pat Shortt as a gay hustler who is having a thing with Father Leary, David Wilmot as Father James’ fellow priest Father Leary, Gary Lydon as a police inspector, and M. Emmet Walsh in a terrific performance as an American writer who is a friend of Father James. Other noteworthy small roles include Orla O’Rourke as the promiscuous Veronica who sleeps around with the men in the small town and Isaach de Bankole in a superb performance as the mechanic Simon.

Dylan Moran is brilliant as the self-loathing millionaire Michael Fitzgerald who tries to seek help from Father James only to display more of his own sense of hatred towards everything including the ideas of what money couldn’t buy. Aidan Gillen is excellent as an atheist doctor who likes to antagonize Father James with his views on the world in order to disprove the idea that God exists. Chris O’Dowd is amazing as the local butcher Jack who copes with his cheating wife Veronica while dealing with other things in the hopes he can find some answers with his own troubles. Kelly Reilly is remarkable as Father James’ daughter Fiona as a woman who is recovering from a suicide attempt as she seeks to try and repair her relationship with her father while watching him deal with his own sense of doubt. Finally, there’s Brendan Gleeson in a phenomenal performance as Father James as this priest who is dealing with a threat that would haunt him for the course of a week as he deals with doubt and other things that would shake his faith as it’s a very eerie yet powerful performance for Gleeson who is at the top of his game with this role.

Calvary is a sensational film from John Michael McDonough that features an incredible performance from Brendan Gleeson. Not only is it a captivating film about faith and doubt but also an eerie character study where a man whose job is to do good and help those is being shaken by dark forces around him. In the end, Calvary is a marvelous film from John Michael McDonough.

Related: The Guard

© thevoid99 2015


Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! You liked it a bit more than I did, but I can't deny how well made it is. Gleeson is awesome.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Thanks. It was well-made and certainly a film that was made with great care. I think John Michael McDonough is already a better filmmaker than his brother.