The Movie Snob is perplexed.
Calvary. It is very rare that I find myself unable to give a movie a grade, but this is one of those times. This movie held my attention. It seemed competently made, and the acting was generally good. But when it was over I felt like I had suffered something of a beating, and not in a cathartic sort of way.
Tough, gruff Brendan Gleeson (Edge of Tomorrow) is Father James, a Catholic priest in a small Irish town on the coast somewhere. In the very first scene of the movie, he is hearing confessions, and someone we can’t see enters the confessional and starts talking to Father James. It’s a man, and he’s not there to confess. He tells Father James that as a child he was repeatedly raped by a Catholic priest, now dead, and in seven days he’s going to kill Father James–to get attention and make some sort of statement. That’s grim enough, but the rest of the movie is basically just following Father James in his usual routine over the next several days, and it is nightmarish. Father James is hardly perfect, but for all we can see, he is a quite decent man; yet, virtually all the townspeople treat him and his faith with mockery, dislike, and/or contempt. (His grudgingly respectful altar boy is a notable exception.) On a perhaps related note, the town is brimming over with sinful and squalid behavior, much of which the perpetrators deliberately and shamelessly fling in the priest’s face. It kind of reminded me of the painting The Torment of St. Anthony, on display at our own Kimball Museum, in which the saint is plagued by all sorts of hideous demons. Anyway, I found the movie dark and disturbing. But different people will take the film different ways, I think. A Los Angeles critic calls it “a serious-minded, lightly comedic rumination on life, death, faith, and community.” A blurb on an ad for the movie calls it “an inventive whodunit with a pitch-black heart,” which I think is closer to the mark. (Although it’s a “who said it,” not a “whodunit,” and that aspect of the movie didn’t seem all that inventive to me.)
The cast was mostly unknown to me, but I did recognize Kelly Reilly (Heaven Is For Real) as Father James’s daughter (no scandal there; he was married, then a widower, before he became a priest) and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) as a local butcher who may or may not be guilty of smacking his wife around.