Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
5 Things You Didn't Know About Lars von Trier, Who's Going Back to Work 5 Things You Didn't Know About Lars von Trier, Who's Going Back to Work Digging Into the Cannes Lineup: More Vet Auteurs and Women, No Netflix Digging Into the Cannes Lineup: More Vet Auteurs and Women, No Netflix Ryan Gosling in Talks for 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Damien Chazelle's 'La La Land' Ryan Gosling in Talks for 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Damien Chazelle's 'La La Land' You Can Now Read Over 200,000 Leaked Sony Emails and Documents You Can Now Read Over 200,000 Leaked Sony Emails and Documents Watch: The New 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Trailer Has Landed Watch: The New 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Trailer Has Landed Watch: This Exclusive Tribeca Trailer Promises a Vérité Southern Gothic in Malick Vein Watch: This Exclusive Tribeca Trailer Promises a Vérité Southern Gothic in Malick Vein 7 Things to Learn from 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner About Compelling Storytelling (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO) 7 Things to Learn from 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner About Compelling Storytelling (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO) 'Queen of Earth,' Starring a Gloriously Unhinged Elisabeth Moss, Goes to IFC 'Queen of Earth,' Starring a Gloriously Unhinged Elisabeth Moss, Goes to IFC Cary Fukunaga Takes Over Long-Stalled 'The Alienist' as TV Series Cary Fukunaga Takes Over Long-Stalled 'The Alienist' as TV Series Why the Istanbul Film Festival Cancelled Its 2015 Competition Why the Istanbul Film Festival Cancelled Its 2015 Competition MTV Movie Awards 2015: The Highs, the Lows and the Winners List (Videos) MTV Movie Awards 2015: The Highs, the Lows and the Winners List (Videos) Arthouse Audit: 'Ex Machina' Leads Four Big Openers, Kristen Stewart Opens 'Clouds of Sils Maria' Arthouse Audit: 'Ex Machina' Leads Four Big Openers, Kristen Stewart Opens 'Clouds of Sils Maria' From 'Boyhood' to 'Boy Next Door,' the 2015 MTV Movie Awards Noms Are All Over the Map From 'Boyhood' to 'Boy Next Door,' the 2015 MTV Movie Awards Noms Are All Over the Map 25 Years Ago I Wrote: "Hollywood's Female Stars An Endangered Species" 25 Years Ago I Wrote: "Hollywood's Female Stars An Endangered Species" The New Ladder: Anatomy of Indie Women's Picture 'Farah Goes Bang' The New Ladder: Anatomy of Indie Women's Picture 'Farah Goes Bang' Here's the First Image of Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix in Woody Allen's 'Irrational Man' Here's the First Image of Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix in Woody Allen's 'Irrational Man' Reese Witherspoon Nabs 'Luckiest Girl Alive' with Lionsgate, with "a wily, intelligent, complex narrator" Reese Witherspoon Nabs 'Luckiest Girl Alive' with Lionsgate, with "a wily, intelligent, complex narrator" Kristen Stewart Explains How She Held Her Own with Juliette Binoche in 'Sils Maria'--and Won a Cesar Kristen Stewart Explains How She Held Her Own with Juliette Binoche in 'Sils Maria'--and Won a Cesar Scientists Choose the 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies Ever Scientists Choose the 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies Ever Ryan Gosling Reveals How and Why He Shot 'Lost River' Ryan Gosling Reveals How and Why He Shot 'Lost River'

McDonagh's 'Calvary,' Starring Brendan Gleeson, Is Darkly Witty Murder Mystery (NEW TRAILER)

Thompson on Hollywood By Tom Christie | Thompson on Hollywood May 15, 2014 at 11:00AM

To the pantheon of memorable first lines -- from "Citizen Kane" and "Goodfellas" to "Patton" -- we can now add this from John Michael McDonagh's "Calvary," uttered by a parishioner to his priest in the confession box: "I first tasted semen when I was seven years old." (Watch the film's new trailer here.)
0
'Calvary'
'Calvary'

To the pantheon of memorable first lines -- from "Citizen Kane" to "Goodfellas" and "Patton" -- we can now add this from John Michael McDonagh's "Calvary," uttered by a parishioner to his priest in the confession box: "I first tasted semen when I was seven years old." (New trailer below.)

I believe that is what's known in the Catholic Church as a bitch-slap.

To his credit, the burly, rough-hewn, been-around-the-block priest (Brendan Gleeson) can take a verbal punch. Stunned, he maintains his composure, which is good because what comes next is a lot tougher. The parishioner explains that because of his abuse over several years at the hands of a now-dead priest, abuse that has destroyed his soul, he has decided to kill a priest, and not just any old abusive priest out there but Gleeson's Father James, because what good would killing a bad priest do? A good priest, now that would be something. He even tells Father James when and where he's going to kill him -- on the beach the following Sunday, seven days away.

And so begins a kind of Agatha Christie-meets-Georges-Simenon who-done-it-slash-black-comedy-slash-lamentation by way of Beckett. Make that a who-will-do-it. (Fox Searchlight picked this up out of Sundance.) Father James knows his killer, ostensibly, but we don't, and it could be almost anyone from among the rather strange collection of disaffected locals, among them the butcher (Chris O'Dowd) who has tired of his slutty wife (Orla O'Rourke), who is having a thing with an African immigrant (Isaach De Bankole); a seriously unhappy rich man (Dylan Moran); an aged American writer (the ever-alive M. Emmet Walsh); a police inspector (Gary Lydon) having it off with a cheeky male prostitute (Owen Sharpe); a deeply cynical doctor (Aidan Gillen). 

Into this heady dysfunctional mix comes Father James's progeny from an earlier life, his daughter (Kelly Reilly), survivor of a recent suicide attempt. That this f/Father wryly guesses at the reasons for her failure -- slashing her wrists crosswise instead of length-wise -- pretty much says all you need to know about the tone here (if the first line didn't already get you there). As a friend said exiting the theater, "Only an Irishman could have told this tale." And told it so well, with so much dark wit. 

They do have the gift of wicked gab, the McDonaghs do. (Brother Martin is the noted playwright and director of "In Bruges" and "Seven Psychopaths.") As well as the gift of structure and pacing, fine collaborators in cinematographer Larry Smith and composer Patrick Cassidy, and, of course, Brendan Gleeson. The actor, who starred in both "In Bruges" and John Michael McDonagh's "The Guard" (with "Calvary," two-thirds of a planned trilogy) and as the saying goes, has the map of Ireland on his face, is as good as gold. His Father James, facing the church's many demons as well as his own (alcoholism) in addition to his potential murderer, takes hit after hit, some of them literal. Even his daughter unloads on him for leaving her -- after the death of her mother -- for the church. Sometimes you can't win for trying and Father James suggests that the virtues are undervalued in this modern life. Which virtues, wonders the daughter. Forgiveness, says the father. In the end, that may be all we have, and far better to have it, McDonagh seems to be saying, than all of this witty brutality.

Meanwhile, the days pass, one by one. There are serious warnings, one of them particularly heinous. Father James decides to leave town, to avoid this unnecessary ending, but can't do it. He stays to face the verdict, the rage, and on Sunday he walks down to the beach in his cassock. A boy from the village, a bright, sardonic boy who might be a young McDonagh, rather theatrically paints a scene of the beach as Father James enters stage right, his would-be killer stage left.

"Calvary," which reverberates long after its viewing, finishes on a note of atonement and forgiveness. The question is, whose, and for whom.

This article is related to: Berlin International Film Festival, Festivals, Reviews


E-Mail Updates