Monday, 14 April 2014

Review: Calvary

World of Blackout Film Review

Calvary Poster

Cert: 15 / 101 mins / Dir. John Michael McDonagh
WoB Rating: 5/7

Despite the rave reviews it's getting from pretty much everywhere, I have to say that I found John Michael McDonagh's Calvary to be a real mixed bag; and not necessarily in a good way. In the opening act, at least, there's a large proportion of incredibly funny, incredibly deadpan comedy, delivered with absolute perfection by Brendan Gleeson and the supporting cast. Gleeson's Father James Lavelle, after being issued a death-threat in a confessional, has just seven days to 'put his house in order', and we meet the eccentric collection of parishioners he has to deal with on a daily basis.

But as the week goes on and we spend more screen-time in each day, the sense of unease grows as the gentle mockery of Father James and the Catholic Church in general turns to outright malice. Throughout this, James knows who his would-be assassin is, discussing the matter with his bishop*1 but not alluding the identity to the audience. Initially a sort of guessing game, the deeper the story goes, the more irrelevant this macguffin becomes, as the real issue is the smouldering resentment of the village that James calls his home.

The second and third acts also have humour, but it's more and more sparse, and feels less appropriate to laugh at, the closer to "Sunday week" we get. Measured, ponderous and increasingly claustrophobic, the powerful but reserved performances from the cast are quite outstanding, as the characters become more unlikeable the more they're shown. Calvary's script is very self aware, both in a screen-sense, and in capturing the harsh realities of the apparent general attitude to the church in the 21st century. It's never out-and-out disrespectful of the organisation, but seems like it's had its fill of undue deference (I can't really comment any more, as I have no personal experience with the Catholic Church or the issues raised in the film. And there are issues). The film becomes horrifically bleak at some points, and again I'm aware that this is completely intentional. Calvary is frequently hard work, and I'm afraid only you can decide if it's worth that.

As much as I admire what the film sets out to do (and undoubtedly achieves), I'd be hard pushed to say I enjoyed it. Then again, I'm not entirely sure I was supposed to. A film about faith, forgiveness and redemption, and not only in a religious sense, Calvary shows us Craggy Island filtered through the lens of bitterness, regret, yet ultimately tranquility.

Don't hate the game, hate the players.

Is the trailer representative of the film?

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?
I kinda did, yes.

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
Almost certainly.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
You'll lose nothing by watching this at home.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Will I watch it again?
I don't think I've got the strength to.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?
There isn't.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

And my question for YOU is…
Is this film a sign that Chris O'Dowd can act when he puts his mind to it? Even if he is still just playing Chris O'Down in this?

*1 I assume it's a bishop. Whatever, it's his 'boss'. Look, I don't know how the church works; I have Father Ted to go off, and that's it.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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