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Instant cinematographic classic
I have been an IMDb member for over ten years now and am yet to write a review, despite always having very strong opinions. The inspiration has finally arrived after viewing John Michael McDonagh's piercing Irish tragedy, Calvary.
The film opens to a beautifully constructed long take of a still Father James (Brendan Gleeson), hearing the confession of an unseen man. In this confession, the man tells the Father of his history of sexual abuse as a child in the church. Also disclosed is his upcoming, long awaited act of vengeance; killing Father James, despite being totally innocent of the crimes in question.
From there, we follow Father James on what could potentially be his final week alive, as he attempts to counsel and manage the various complex characters in his small Irish cliff-side town, as well as an ignorant coworker and an emotionally distressed daughter.
Gleeson's depiction of Father James is handled with tender dignity, a man dedicated to serving the spiritual wellness of his community as a pillar of support, despite being perceived as a mere expected intervention for a lot of people's unsavoury behaviour. An interesting dynamic to witness is in the many interactions between Father James and the people in his community. They all approach him with such unabashed honesty and shamelessness of their "sins". Their selfish and lazy expectations of Father James to immediately interfere and halt their behaviour aren't always met, creating tension. Gleeson depicts the slow decline of his patience with his community so delicately and subtly that it's seamless. Gleeson, and the cast as a whole, deliver themselves with such incredibly tender and patient timing, in both dramatic and comedic settings. Coupled with the gorgeously picturesque scenery of the Irish coastline, this allows for a completely immersive experience in feeling not only the chill of the winter wind, but also the coldness of the townspeople that radiate onto a patient, but toiled Father James until the final climax.
Such townspeople include Chris O'Dowd as a butcher who is potentially violent with his unapologetic and blatantly unfaithful girlfriend (alluringly played by Marie-Josee Croze), Dylan Moran as a painfully arrogant and flashy billionaire returning to town and Game of Thrones' Aiden Gillen as the local soulless doctor (who is also quite the silver fox in modern clothing, if you don't mind me saying!!!). Also a special mention for the very talented Domnhall Gleeson in his cameo as a troubled convicted serial killer with minimal scenes but a performance that packs a punch, as usual.
Another sparkling gem of the film is the way McDonagh lights the church scenes. Warm oranges keep us safe among the emotional revelations in the confessional box and chilly blues pull us into the emotional tone of each scene. Each frame is so carefully considered and constructed and beautifully composed. Artful shots worthy of a place on my living room wall.
What begins as a potentially mysterious whodunnit (or in this case, who'lldoit / willtheydoit) very quickly becomes a deep character journey that will soak you into it's scenery and psyche. Brilliant film. 9.5/10