Director: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleason, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran, M. Emmet Walsh, Isaach De Bankole
Written by: John Michael McDonagh
Running Time: 100 mins
Release date: 11th April 2014
In 2011, John Michael McDonagh made a hugely impressive feature debut with The Guard. So now comes his second film and if this is anything like his first film, it should be a cracker. Well I am glad to say that it is just that and more so. A finely tuned whodunit with a script to die for, great performances all round and a central performance that will blow you away.
Father James is a Catholic priest in a sleepy Irish village who, while taking confess, is told that he will be killed the following Sunday, for crimes of a dead pedophile priest who had abused the mysterious voice. Father James is a good man who is more than a priest to the local community. Trying to balance his job as a priest and coping with the arrival of his daughter, who has recently attempted suicide, puts added pressure on him, as the days slowly tick by till his predicted doom on the Sunday.
There is so much to enjoy here that it’s really difficult to know where to start, as each part plays such an important element in the perfect picture. McDonagh the screenwriter has created one of the finest scripts to hit the screen in a while and manages to do what most other films fail to do, balance the tragic with the comic. This is a very funny film with that dark Irish humour filtering through at every opportunity but it never feels out-of-place or in bad taste to the tragedy of the piece and, especially one speech, the horror. While this is all going on, you have the whodunit element as well, so you are watching, laughing, emoting and thinking all at the same time.
Into this is a religious argument as well. The relevance of the Catholic church in this day and age. Father James is not a preachy man. He doesn’t spout sermons everywhere he goes. He is just a good man and yet he seems far removed from his local community as he can be. The respect him. They even like him but in some cases they distrust him and his motives. One very telling scene is when he comes across a young girl and the reaction from her father. Has the church now got such a stigma attached to it? The title is also very telling. Calvary was the walls surrounding the area where Jesus was crucified and McDonagh uses a hill to represent this.
As a director, McDonagh has such a good eye and as well crafted as his script is, it also looks haunting, beautiful and, where it needs to be, cold and detached.It helps capture the mood, the tension, the atmosphere of impending doom that Father James is facing.
Don’t panic too much about the religious cogitations. They are never hammered down your throat but are quite subtle and if you are looking for a completely entertaining and impressive piece of cinema then this is it. All helped by some perfect performances from a cast of true talent.
Nice to see Chris O’Dowd doing something other than pure comedy. As a butcher coping with an adulterous wife, it has plenty of charm laced with darkness. Aidan Gillen is impressive as an atheist coroner and has the speech of the film (trust me, it will linger long after the film has finished). Kelly Reilly brings a touch of class as Father James’s daughter and it’s nice to see legendary character actor M. Emmet Walsh back on our screen as a dying writer.
At the centre of this stunning film is Brendan Gleeson. Being as far removed from his character in The Guard as he could possibly be, this is his finest hour, a performance full of subtleties and touches of lightness as well as constantly commanding the screen. He has always been a solid actor who can be relied upon to deliver every time but in Father James he has reached the top of his game and it’s worth while seeing just for him.
This is a film that took me completely by surprise. It covered every emotion going and by the finale, it left me stunned. The audience I saw it with sat long after the credits were rolling. John Michael McDonagh has produced a cinematic masterpiece and if you thought The Guard was good, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Be prepared for an emotional roller coaster. This is truly a religious experience.