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Calvary - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+

Brendan Gleeson's Father James is an immediately fascinating character. In the opening shot of Calvary, we see him in the confession booth, listening to a man say he's going to kill him. The faceless man making the threat acknowledges that Father James is a good priest, and that's why he will kill him: had he killed the priest who molested him for five years as a child -- who is dead already anyway -- it wouldn't have mattered. Killing a good priest is something that matters. Father James reacts to this with patient bemusement, but also seems to take the man seriously.

And this is how Father James is with several of the almost pointedly oddball characters in the small Ireland town in which he lives. Clearly we are meant to be kept guessing at the identity of the man who made the threat, but these town citizens and their myriad issues of their own are laid out with curious detachment from that. There are a great many moral challenges Father James must deal with, from inherent distrust of the Catholic Church to creating a hierarchy of the sins all these people commit. A modern priest unlike any other seen in cinema, Father James suggests to one lonely young man the use of pornography to alleviate sexual urges. And it actually comes across as genuine compassion.

Father James behaves as though he's seen it all. He hangs out at the local pub, where the owner is being foreclosed on. He visits a local man who is so filthy rich he literally pisses on one of his paintings just to prove how little his possessions mean to him. Even when his daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) comes home for a visit fresh from a suicide attempt, James half-jokes: "I see you made the classic mistake. You're supposed to cut down, not across."

We never get a clear sense of why Fiona attempted suicide, but that's not as important as the fact itself, and how it fits into her history with her widower father. And this is an interesting town Father James lives in, where many vices are out in the open that would not have been in the past, not least of which are others in the pub speaking to Fiona openly about the bandages on her wrists. When James visits a local policeman at his home, the man has a male hustler there, and that's just a detail, immaterial to the matter at hand.

Father James is unfazed by anything, at least until someone goes after his dog. A valid point is later made, something about a Big Picture Issue that Calvary as a movie taps into: James freely admits to crying over his dog, but not over the many children whose lives were destroyed by predatory pedophile priests. This is where the issue of detachment enters his consciousness.

Calvary threads themes of guilt and forgiveness into its narrative in sneaky ways. There's a smattering of truly goofy humor that is genuinely funny at times. And through it all, Father James's faith is never shaken. It's easy to watch this movie and feel that to lose his faith would be understandable. He actually has a discussion about this with a woman who just lost her husband to a car accident, for whom he had to come perform last rites. For people in such unfair circumstances, he theorizes, losing one's faith is not so much easy as it is understandable.

And so it goes with Father James, although he stubbornly holds onto his faith. He ultimately has an understanding of a young man's need to use him as a proxy for his vengeance against the Catholic Church. Even we as viewers of the movie can see the twisted logic of this psychopathic thinking. This is what sets Calvary apart, as it's not just thoroughly absorbing; it's provocative in a way that transcends conventional entertainment. You'll be thinking about these characters and what they face well after the credits roll.

Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson face the dark forces around them in CALVARY.</a>

Overall: A-
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