"Priest Under Fire"
CALVARY is a stunning, emotionally powerful, unflinching look at a Roman Catholic priest facing down all manner of foes while waiting to see if a man will follow through with a threat to kill him in a week. CALVARY has a profoundly Christian worldview. However, it has a lot of crude content and shows the sinful attitudes of many of the townspeople around him who sometimes scoff at him and berate him, mostly because of the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.
Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a small-town Irish priest who joined the clergy in mid-life after his wife died, leaving his daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) resentful and feeling abandoned. In the opening scene, Father James hears a confession from an unseen man who says he was sexually abused for years as a boy by a priest. He threatens to kill Father James in seven days for revenge. He challenges Father James to meet him on the town beach. He wants to kill an innocent priest because the one who harmed him is dead now and it would be more shocking to everyone if he killed an innocent clergyman.
As a result, Father James enters that week with deep uncertainty, stopping to buy a gun for self-defense from a writer (M. Emmett Walsh), who sells it to him illegally. Along the way of those seven days, his daughter comes to visit him, and he has to help her cope with her bipolar depression and the fact that a lover he doesn’t know has hit her.
Father James confronts the man he believes is responsible for hitting his daughter, stirring up tension with him. He also faces an unusual visit from his daughter’s ex-husband (Chris O’Dowd), who seems friendly but then scoffs at him for being a priest and for the crimes of those who abused children.
Also darkening the priest’s world is the town police chief, who secretly uses a homosexual prostitute who repeatedly taunts Father James about the fact that he (the prostitute) was sexually abused as a boy. An atheistic doctor tells Father James a horrible true story about a child who was left helpless by botched surgery, tormenting the priest with the idea of why God would allow such suffering to exist.
Father James starts to drink to excess and loses his temper in a dangerous fashion. As the days tick down, however, he rallies his courage and faith. He resolutely makes one nobly right and forgiving decision after another before engaging in a powerful act of self-sacrifice.
CALVARY is strong stuff, with a depiction of faith and loss, good and evil that offers plenty for viewers to think about. Through it all, its central character Father James is shown as fighting for moral justice and trying to help others find forgiveness and regain their own dignity. Although some characters accept these gifts, others reject them.
Ultimately, this unflinching portrayal truly offers a stirring parallel to the desperate last walk of Jesus to His own self-sacrifice on the Cross at Calvary. Writer-director John Michael McDonagh may depict a world with sin in it, but he does so with tasteful discretion and by showing that the wages of sin are depression and misery. For example, those who taunt the priest with their bad behavior and cruel comments all wind up miserable, while those who strive for redemption or forgiveness attain some level of happiness.
Throughout the movie, Brendan Gleeson delivers an incredible, timeless performance that fully deserves Oscar consideration. Like Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, this is a movie that deals with harsh subjects and imagery (though nowhere near the violence of PASSION), but one that extols forgiveness and redemption.
The priest always tries to counsel people wisely about the traumas they have suffered, always has a kind word for those who need it, and maintains his dignity as a man of God, even as those around him decry the sexual abuse brought about by other priests. He has a troubled relationship with his adult daughter, who felt he abandoned her when he became a priest, in effect leaving her without either parent, but by the end of the movie, they have developed a beautiful relationship and forgive each other warmly.
That said, CALVARY contains plenty of strong foul language, crude sexual references and a scene of graphic violence. So, extreme caution is advised. Also, although the movie’s Catholic priest is a really positive figure, the movie does spend a lot of time on the sexual abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. The scandals are indeed atrocious events, but they have also been hyped a lot by many in the mass media who have an Anti-Catholic and Anti-Christian ax to grind.
(CCC, B, AbAb, PC, LLL, VVV, SS, N, AA, DD, MM) Very strong Christian worldview extolling forgiveness, sacrifice and redemption, with a positive depiction of a clergyman as the movie’s protagonist, but with some attacks on the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse scandals and other failings, though those taunting the priest with their bad behavior and cruel comments all seem to wind up miserable, while those striving for forgiveness or redemption attain some level of happiness, plus a politically correct comment about joining the military during peacetime; at least 39 obscenities and profanities, including about 25 “f” words, a couple GDs, and one borderline JC uttered by the priest when he’s horrified to find someone has murdered his dog, plus troubled, drunken wealthy man urinates on an expensive painting to show priest he’s not attached to his wealth; one graphic shooting scene with blood, priest under pressure drinks too much in one scene and starts firing his gun in saloon, priest finds someone has murdered his dog, and a woman has suicidal tendencies; strong sexual references in dialogue during several scenes such as a man talks sarcastically to the priest about why a woman might enjoy getting beaten during sex, male prostitute taunts priest to have sex with him like other priests did when he was a boy, a later sex scene involving the male prostitute, implied adultery, and crude comments about sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church; upper male nudity; alcohol use and drunkenness; smoking and one character snorts cocaine; and, strong miscellaneous immorality includes lots of talk about the various ongoing sins among the townspeople.
CALVARY is a stunning, emotionally powerful, unflinching drama. Father James is a small-town Irish priest who joined the clergy in mid-life after his wife died. In the opening, he hears a confession from an unseen man who says he was abused for years as a boy by a priest. He threatens to kill Father James in seven days for revenge because the one who harmed him is dead and it would be more shocking if he killed an innocent clergyman. As Father James visits his flock to unmask the man’s identity, he undergoes a test of his own faith and courage.
CALVARY is strong stuff, with a depiction of faith and loss, good and evil that offers plenty to consider. Throughout, its central character, Father James, is shown fighting for moral justice and trying to help others find forgiveness and regain some dignity. Although some characters accept these gifts, others reject them. CALVARY has a strong Christian worldview, marred by strong foul language, strong lewd references to the Catholic abuse scandals, and a graphic scene of violence. So, extreme caution is warranted.