Calvary Review: A Man of Faith, Not of the Church

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Calvary starts with Father James (Brendan Gleeson) being told by a mysterious parishioner that they are going to murder him. This faceless voice’s reasoning is that a priest molested him when he was a child, but that killing a good priest will make more of a statement. He tells Father James that he has a week to get his house in order and our lead agrees to meet him then.

It’s a dark tone to set for an opening scene, but it is one of the most striking beginnings to a film this year. From there, Calvary actually lightens the tone and develops a number of characters in the small Irish town that could be Father James’ future killer. The wry sense of humor in the first hour or so before things get dark again give the film some life as we wait to see the priest’s fate.

Gleeson creates a character we want to follow. He’s labeled as a “good priest” around town, but Father James is not without his flaws. This week he has to set his life right proves to be a true test of his character and morals. This is where Calvary ends up being more of a character study than a mystery. There is maybe a scene or two that doesn’t put Father James front and center for examination.

One refreshing aspect, however, is that the church isn’t necessarily being examined as well. Anyone denying corruption in the Catholic Church is naive, but Father James is there not as a representative of the church but as a missionary of his own faith. He acknowledges the flaws in the church, but he doesn’t let them destroy the reasons he became a priest.

Some will take Calvary as an attack on the Catholic Church, when really it serves as a reminder of the foundations it was built on. The people in this small town showcase a variety of viewpoints on the church in our present culture, both positive and negative, while Father James does his best to be the objective voice of reason in an age where priests don’t garner the respect that they used to.

The end result is a film that tackles the issues with the modern church, while delving deep into a character that sees those flaws and ignores them for the importance of his own faith. Gleeson carries the film by giving one of the best performances of the year. While it does drag a bit in the middle, the weighty ideas and rich characterizations are enough to make Calvary an incredibly rewarding experience. In a year packed with religious films, this one stands tall as far and away the most watchable. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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