Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sundance Review: Calvary - 3 1/2 stars

Brendan Gleeson stars as Father James Lavelle, an Irish priest in a small town.  As the movie begins, a man enters the confessional.  We don't see his face, we only hear his voice.  In fact, the camera stays on Gleeson's face for the entire scene.  This man tells the priest that he was molested by a priest when he was young.  Because this priest is dead, he's going to kill Father James in his place.  He also says that killing an innocent priest will have more of an effect than killing a bad priest would be.

The man says he's going to kill Father James in seven days.  So the rest of the movie is Father James going about his daily business like usual.  His daily business often involves visiting the people in his town, including a woman who is having an affair and gets beaten up on a regular basis, an old author who's thinking of killing himself, and a rich banker who is facing jail time and wants to give money to the church in order to atone for his sins.

Brendan Gleeson is one of my favorite actors, and I really enjoyed his performance.  He gets to play a wide range of emotions, from being the kind and wise priest to getting drunk in a bar and getting into fights.  Father James is something of a recovering alcoholic, so there's always the possibility that he will start drinking again.

The movie moves at a leisurely pace, and it would drag a bit if it weren't for Gleeson's performance and the great writing by John Michael McDonagh, who also directed.  There is some really good dialogue in this movie, and while it isn't a comedy like their last collaboration, The Guard, there are still some pretty good laughs. 

The ticking clock is an overused device in movies, but it works just fine here.  Every 10 -15 minutes there is a title card on the screen to inform us what day it is, so we keep getting reminded of how many days until someone will try to kill him.  The other stuff going on with the characters is interesting enough that I would forget about his impending doom for a few minutes.  Then I would be reminded and wonder how it's going to work out.  Is he going to be killed?  Is he going to be able to talk the man out of it?  Or will he defend himself?

This is probably the best movie I saw at Sundance that wasn't a documentary.  I'm looking forward to its release so I can watch it again.

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