For parent-turned-Father James Lavelle (Gleeson), life in his small town soon takes a drastic turn, as he's threatened by an unknown man during confession. The victim seeks revenge for being being molested by a priest years ago, and Father Levelle becomes the target. But who in his small town would make such a threat? There’s the butcher (Chris O’Dowd) who is suspected of beating his slut-wife (Orla O’Rourke) and her Ivorian-immigrant lover (Isaach De Bankole), as well as the sexually-frustrated Milo (Killian Scott) and the crotchety old American writer (M. Emmet Walsh), who's hell-bent on taking his life before dementia arrives. But with his daughter (Kelly Reilly) arriving in town after her botched suicide, Revelle must keep the secret of his impending death from her, all while helping to rebuild her life. When the end comes, Revelle must stand alone, like the great rocky and unforgiving shores of the Eastern Irish Coast depicted near the town.
There are plenty of roles where one can imagine a whole host of actors portraying - not with Gleeson. He seems perfectly at ease early on, drinking in the fetishes of his town, and perfectly willing to see his promises to the end, even if it means the end of his life. I've always liked his ability to stay behind the curtains, allowing other stars to take the lead. Here he is the perfect rock of Gibraltar, and we are better off for the perfect casting. Other villagers are similarly memorable, from the male prostitute (Owen Sharpe), to the violent atheist doctor (Aiden Gillen). Reilly plays a tortured daughter with the look of someone just trying to hold on, and needing both the father and the Father to mend. Even O'Dowd stretches his comedic legs to turn in a gripping third act performance. But it's Gleeson's Lavelle who reveals the most, from shattered widow and recovering alcoholic to dog lover and sensitive parishioner. His is the new face of the church, but his scars are almost as deep as the ones experienced by so many victims of abuse.
I'm not sure where Calvary switches from bizarre town comedy to serious drama, but by the time gun meets priest, the transition has been perfectly made. It's like a late summer day that starts cool, slowly shifting to warm, before storming and washing away the dirt. But by the time it's over, we know the terrible price innocent and kind people will pay for the church's abuses. And it's not just the final scene that demonstrates this: a wonderful little scene between Lavelle and a little girl near the beach turns ugly when the father angrily snatches her up as if Lavelle was all the evil of the church wrapped into a single person. But it also asks very tough questions about faith: Does God create serial killers? How far can faith go before must abandon it?
Calvary is rated R for sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use and has a runtime of 100 minutes.
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