Brendan Gleeson, left, stars as a priest whose life has been threatened and Chris O'Dowd plays a butcher in 'Calvary.' (Fox Searchlight)
Brendan Gleeson delivers a typically towering yet warm performance in “Calvary.” Too bad the movie’s something of a mess.
Gleeson plays Father James, a priest in a small Irish coastal town. In the opening scene, a man enters a confessional and says in a week’s time he’s going to shoot Father James dead — not for anything the priest himself has done, but to punish all priests for the sexual abuse our man suffered as a child.
Father James believes he knows who the man behind the confessional screen was, but the audience is left in the dark. An intriguing set-up, right?
Well, not really. Because writer-director John Michael McDonagh, who directed Gleeson in the far more coherent “The Guard,” promptly abandons this tone and sends Father James out on his daily routine of counseling and contending with the many characters of his small village.
And this village is filled with enough characters. There’s a cynical physician (Aidan Gillen), a crusty old American novelist (M. Emmet Walsh), a middle-aged beauty (Orla O’Rourke) who sleeps around and her resigned husband (Chris O’Dowd), the local butcher. There’s an African-born mechanic (Issach De Bankole), a captured killer (Gleeson’s son, Domhnall) and a filthy rich, but hollow businessman (Dylan Moran).
As if this isn’t enough, McDonagh brings in Father James’ grown, somewhat suicidal daughter (Kelly Reilly) for a week of reconnection. Turns out the good Father was married once; it also turns out he has an unfortunate fondness for alcohol.
So mostly the film’s a time of reflection amongst his oddball flock for the Father. And then McDonagh jerks the movie back toward darkness with all the subtlety of a decapitation, lurching with suddenly mean intent. And the natural reaction is — huh?
Rated R for sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use
Running time: 100 minutes