*This review contains NO SPOILERS!!!*
Calvary, written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, is a small film that tackles big questions. It is not a perfect film, but despite it's flaws it is well worth seeing.
The film stars Brendan Gleeson, who is a truly fantastic actor, and he is as good as he's ever been here as Father James Lavelle. He brings a personal, national and spiritual history to his character that is written all over his face. His work seems effortless, which is always the sign of a master craftsmen on display. Gleeson is an actor comfortable being both gentle yet volcanic, kind yet steadfast. His presence brings with it a rich and vivid inner life that pierces the darkness like a lighthouse on a rocky shore, giving the viewer something by which to emotionally navigate and also beckoning them to come closer to get a better look. Gleeson is 'one of those actors', the type of actor who deserves much more attention than he gets, but is probably not very interested in getting any attention at all.
Kelly Reilly, the quintessential Irish beauty, is also very good in a supporting role. She is, not unlike Gleeson, one of those actors who always draws the viewer in with her inner life, and we, like her character, are moths to the flame of her intrigue and can't help but be captivated enough to take a closer look.
The rest of the supporting cast is just okay. The weakest aspect of the film are some of the supporting actors. In particular, the two most well known and recognizable actors in supporting roles are not very good. Some supporting actors seem miscast, some seem to be cast in a different film. Regardless of that flaw, the film was strong enough to overcome it.
Besides Gleeson and Reilly, another great strength of the film is that it looks absolutely gorgeous. Director McDonagh uses the ruggedly bleak yet stunningly beautiful western Irish landscape to perfection. Whether it be the lone mountain off in the distance to symbolize salvation that is attainable but only through a great journey and struggle, or shots of rough surf crashing into the jagged coast line symbolizing the perils of our spiritual quest for meaning, McDonagh fills our eyes and sub-conscious with a visual story that succeeds even without his well crafted words.
Calvary, in case you don't know, is the place where Christ was crucified. Calvary, the film is about the crucifixion of modern man, the Catholic Church and one priest in particular. The questions raised by the film that make it so intriguing are…can Catholicism survive modernity with its narcissistic and spiritually vacant "free" market capitalism and "free" love, and it's intellectually vapid atheism, among other competing gods? Can Christianity survive? Can Christ? Or is Christ, and more specifically, Christ's message of forgiveness, the cure for the emptiness that plagues modern man? Can Christ's message also free us from the cycle of historical, national, personal and spiritual grievances born from our unwillingness, or inability to forgive? Can we as people, or the Catholic church as an institution, be brave enough to admit our sins, be penitent of them, and be humble enough to ask forgiveness for them? Or will we, like the Catholic Church of our time, be too arrogant, too self serving, too greedy, too lazy and too blind to ever do any of those things? Will we take the easy road of cheap grace and cynicism, even if the cynicism is hard won? And will our failure to be penitent and ask for forgiveness, or to be brave and give forgiveness to those that ask, lead us down the same path as the Catholic church, which leaves us as nothing but a smoldering pile of ruins to be gawked at by historians?
The theme of Calvary is the struggle for man to find God. It is the struggle not only of our time, but of all time, and the film is well worth your time.