John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary had a preview showing in Washington, DC, where the director as well as Brendan Glesson discussed not only what they were trying to do with the film, but the broader landscape that it existed in.
There was a period for questions from the audience as well, which made for a pretty interesting evening. It also had an (unfortunate) effect of highlighting what McDonagh was trying to do with Calvary, and was only occasionally successful at.
Which I will get into momentarily.
Brendan Gleeson plays Father James Lavelle, a Catholic priest in Ireland, who’s faith was his sword and shield in a world where he now serves as little more than a person of interest, of curiosity. It’s an attitude that he contributes to, and seeming cultivates, seeing that he wears traditional Catholic vestment on virtually all occasions.
His clothing harkened back to a time when a Catholic priest was believed to virtually of unimpeachable morality, before the seemingly rampant pedophilia in the Church stained the reputations of all that promoted its teachings.
As you can probably tell, Calvary is a pretty serious film; and if that were it’s only goal, it could be called nothing less than a rousing success.
But McDonagh is more ambitious that than, which in this particular instance is problematic because Calvary also wants to be a comedy–admittedly of the very dark variety–and comes up short.
The problem is that the subject matter is so serious, so loaded with pathos, that the comedy has to be bold as well, and for the most part, it isn’t. Though there is one moment, when Father Lavelle has a potentially violent encounter with Dr. Frank Hart (Aidan Gillen) that you could see where the film is trying to get to.
There are other instances and characters that are included for what I assume is primarily comedic effect, such as an altar boy, which works, and an odd parishioner, which doesn’t and brings to mind the two murdered twins from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining more than anything else.
And the movie needed more humor because it’s not an easy film, and it’s inclusion would have gone a long way toward justifying the ending, which is more Mel Gibsonesque that I would have expected.