Movie Reviews

Calvary: The Darkly Virtuous Christian Movie For Everybody Else

Genre: Drama  Director: John Michael McDonagh  Writer: John Michael McDonagh  Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly

Genre: Drama
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Writer: John Michael McDonagh
Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly


“There’s too much talk about sin, and not enough talk about virtues.” –Calvary


CALVARY’s Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a good priest who is faced with sinister and troubling circumstances brought about by a mysterious member of his parish. Although he continues to comfort his own fragile daughter (Kelly Reilly) and reach out to help members of his church with their various scurrilous moral – and often comic – problems, he feels sinister and troubling forces closing in, and begins to wonder if he will have the courage to face his own personal Calvary. (c) Fox Searchlight

Brendan Gleeson as Father James was a revelation.

Brendan Gleeson as Father James was a revelation.

There are many great things about the movie Calvary. First, Brendan Gleeson as Father James was a revelation. In his best work to date, Mr. Gleeson balances uncomfortable comedic moments with seething dramatic tension. As a humble, yet complicated priest who struggles with doing the right thing, he cares for the serious and silly issues among his parish. Bitter yet reassured, he moves forward through the hardships in life while upholding the virtues of faith, family, and ultimately, forgiveness. Another terrific trait to Calvary was the excellent ensemble cast. From Chris O’Dowd (the only one with the accent in the Wisconsin based Bridesmaids) to Patt Shortt (The Guard) to Isaach De Bankolé (Ghostdog), the acting was top notch and moved the story along. Writer / Director John Michael McDonagh adds subtle touches to his movies with the actors, lines of dialogue, and individual scenes.


In the opening scene of Calvary, Father James has his life threatened by a mysterious member of the congregation in the confessional.  The first line of dialogue sets a morbid, yet effective, tone. It grabs the audience and rarely does Calvary let go. The Catholic sex abuse scandal is dealt with balanced tenderness and cynicism. Rarely has a movie touched upon the consequences of this like CALVARY. Father James bonds closer to his visiting daughter (who he had in a previous marriage before his wife passed away). A widowed priest who comforts his depressed daughter as a member of his church threatens his life has a lot of baggage. Other events happen that I don’t want to reveal, but one wonders what is going on. It seems like a typically week in this town, Father James senses impending doom based on casual conversations and bizarre circumstances. As things are taken from him, he is able to maintain composure and release burdens. This is a beautiful thing to watch on screen.


I’m both excited and reassured that movies like Calvary are not only allowed to be made, but can be released during the summer months. Thank God a studio like Fox Searchlight seeks quality movies like this and trusts audiences will embrace them. I don’t know how to pitch this movie to someone. Neither did the studio which shows many jokes in the trailer implying this drama is a dark comedy. It kind of is, but not really. I will say this about Calvary: Christians should see it. Typically American “faith based” movies are for a segmented audience preaching to the choir “cultural victimization as comfort food” in a spiritually shallow manner. Very few people can relate let alone level-headed Christians. Those kind of movies are never challenging. Consider Calvary with its tough subject matter, dark humor, and raw themes a Christian movie for everybody else…and just maybe even the Christians who praised God’s Not Dead.


This Christian rates Calvary a 9 out of 10.

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