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A Good Priest, a Bad Town

'Calvary' is good but not quite great

August 20, 2014, 12:00 am

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) sits in a confessional. An unseen man enters the box and says, “The first time I tasted semen I was 7 years old.”

Thus begins Calvary, writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s pitch-black comedy and murder mystery. Father James asks whether the parishioner has anything to confess, and the parishioner tells Father James that he plans to kill a good priest—namely, Father James—in retaliation for the church’s abuses. Set your affairs in order, says the man, and meet me on the beach next Sunday morning.

The opening scene is a lot to live up to, and Calvary tries gamely, mixing humor and dark drama in equal measures. But there are about a dozen supporting characters that pop up throughout the film’s 100 minutes, and they’re mostly red herrings and archetypes.

That would be fine and dandy if Calvary weren’t so interested at getting at certain deep questions—how does one person, or town, or church deal with the mass of abuse and suffering that the Church has been covering up for years? Such an inquiry needs more than archetypes. But Calvary is worth your time, if only to see Gleeson show off his considerable chops. He’ll be nominated for every major acting award at year’s end.


Directed by John Michael McDonagh

With Gleeson, Kelly Reilly and Chris O’Dowd

UA DeVargas 6

100 min.


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