John Michael McDonagh, the younger brother of Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) follows up his small-town crime comedy, The Guard, with another equally great small-town crime comedy. However, this time round the crime is more sinister, and the comedy blacker. Brendan Gleeson delivers yet another meaty performance for a McDonagh brother, who both seem to offer him the best roles, as kindly priest Father James Lavelle, who is told upon the film’s opening that he will be killed in a week’s time to pay for the abusive crimes and sins of the Catholic church. He has a week to ‘get his house in order’, and to complicate matters, his emotionally fragile daughter (Kelly Reilly) comes to stay. The film unfolds as a whodunit? before the crime is committed.
Like The Guard, McDonagh delivers a fine array of sinister characters, all of whom after meeting, we realise are a thoroughly nasty bunch – each equally likely to be the treacherous killer-to-be: Chris O’Dowd’s misogynistic butcher, Dylan Moran as a poncy upper-class cad, Aidan Gillen as a black-hearted doctor, Pat Short as a standoffish pub landlord, and David Wilmot as Father Lavelle’s colleague – but this being a McDonagh film, you can’t write off the weak-willed ‘friends’ either.
McDonagh has upped the ante here since he made The Guard, providing sharper, nastier dialogue with a much more uncomfortable undertone to the whole feature – a lot of the scenes are confrontational meetings between two or more characters, always keeping the blood tingling and the hairs on the back of the neck erect. It’s a pleasure to watch most of the time, and despite the occasional foray into the overtly theatrical (some of the characters are like caricatures of themselves), it’s only really Aidan Gillen who overdoes it, really laying on the ham thick, as he often does. Aside from this minor snafu, the only other issue which bothered me was the fact I could swear it was very clear whose voice we hear telling Father Lavelle he will kill him – and rest assured, I was right, which put a slightly numbing anti-climax on the conclusion for me. That aside, Calvary is a hypnotic and fascinating little thriller; another solid addition to John Michael McDonagh’s portfolio, and yet again I anticipate what he’ll do next. [4/5]