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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Movie Review - Calvary

Calvary (2014)
Starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach de Bankolé, M. Emmet Walsh, Marie-Josée Croze, Domhnall Gleeson, David Wilmot, Pat Shortt, and Gary Lydan
Directed by John Michael McDonagh

I'm going to be honest with you.  Despite having an English degree, I had to look up the definition of "calvary" as I was really only familiar with the term "cavalry," dealing with a military force.  "Calvary" is either "a sculptured representation of the Crucifixion, usually in the open air," or "an experience or occasion of extreme suffering, especially mental suffering."  Needless to say, by the end of Calvary both of those definitions will make sense to the viewer.

Now with that out of the way, if you look at the cast list above, you'll notice a lot of names -- most of which you're likely unfamiliar.  However, I felt the need to include them all because Calvary is an ensemble piece of a film with Brendan Gleeson at its center as Catholic priest Father James as he struggles to deal with the fact that in a closed confessional a member of his parish tells him he was abused as a child by a priest and plans on killing Father James in one week's time as recompense for the Church's abuse.  As Father James struggles with whether to inform the authorities, attempts to confirm the identity of the confessor, and also determine if there's any veracity to the threat, the priest travels throughout the small Irish town talking about a variety of things with his parishioners.

Despite the heaviness of the overarching (and always present) death threat, Calvary is more about the inhabitants of the town itself.  More than three-quarters of the film is simply Father James visiting his people and discussing their sins, problems, and aspirations.  Therein, unfortunately, lies Calvary's biggest problem -- rather than feel like a fully realized film, it feels like a series of vignettes.  I realize that overall they all contribute to Father James' emotional state in what could possibly be his final days, but the film lacks a really important "through line" with which all of the tortured lives of the Irish town's residents really come together.  It feels more episodically play-like than a well-rounded film.

I appreciate director-screenwriter John Michael McDonagh's ambition here.  The simplicity of the film is interesting and the overall concept is unique with several of the townsfolk's stories proving to be emotionally stimulating.  Still, while Calvary is better than McDonagh's first film The Guard, I couldn't help but find myself teetering on boredom multiple times with the film not quite equalling the sum of its many, many parts.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

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