by Patrick O’Connor
IN the opening scene of this film, an unseen man in a confession box in a small Irish town tells Father James (the superb Brendan Gleeson) that he was badly abused by a priest when he was a young boy.
He goes on so say that priest was now dead but he has decided to get his revenge by killing a good priest, someone completely innocent like he was and that has has chosen Father James.
He gives Father James seven days to put his house in order and seeks a beach rendezvous in a week’s time.
You may be surprised that Calvary has been described by some critics as a comedy – albeit a very dark one – and there certainly some very funny moments, in that crazy, whimsical way only the Irish can truly carry off.
But this a film of many parts, some of which are extremely brutal with suicide, infidelity and not surprisingly the Roman Catholic church coming under extreme scrutiny.
Director Michael McDonagh’s initially teases us to treat the narrative as a who-is-going-to-do-it as Father James goes about his pastoral duties, meeting several members of his flock who all seem to indicate that they could be the unknown assassin-to-be.
These include an atheist doctor, a local squire who cashed in on Ireland’s Celtic Tiger boom and a butcher who may or may not have battered his wife because she is sleeping around.
Then the mood gets even nastier as first of all the church is burnt down and then Father James’ pet dog is found with his throat cut.
Father James eventually turns up at the appointed hour on the beach but who he meets there is not really the point of the story.
We are far more interested in the tortured souls he uncovers during the week and his relationship with them.
This is no run-of-the mill priest but a worldly-wise man who was previously married and had a daughter (who turns up to see him after a failed suicide attempt), was an alcoholic and likes driving fast cars.
Gleeson plays this multi-layered character to perfection.