Scandals about pedophile priests bring many to tears. In John Michael McDonagh's Calvary, a victim of abuse gets his day. No spoiler here. Make sure you are not late when you see this powerful, taut movie, which begins in a confessional. The camera is on Father James' concerned yet calm face as the voice on the other side of the wall tells of the horrific acts done to him as a youth. Our priest is innocent, but the voice tells him to get his affairs in order, to meet him on Sunday at the beach, where he will kill him.
That is the conceit that wraps around a story of an Irish seaside town, its eccentrics (including Bridesmaids' Chris O'Dowd and Game of Thrones' Aiden Gillen), our priest (In Bruges' Brendan Gleeson), and his suicidal daughter (Flight's Kelly Reilly), his child from marriage before he joined the priesthood. If this were a novel, it would be a page-turner, to find out who would threaten so illogically, and more, how this priest, who moves through each scene like Christ at the stations of the cross, would handle the matter of impending death. You could say, this is a film that is unafraid to address the larger questions of justice for crimes against the innocent. But if you've been reading your Joyce and Beckett, not to mention McDonagh's playwright brother Martin, you know the Irish have a flair for the tragicomic.
On Thursday, the director and his actors came to lunch at the Explorers Club, including Chris O'Dowd who Peggy Siegal had to wrangle to attend last minute following a performance of Of Mice and Men on Broadway in its final week. The popular comic actor was nominated for a Tony for his performance, co-starring James Franco. In Calvary he's a butcher with a philandering wife, and, in one of the movie's funniest moments, Father James confronts him in a meat locker. Brendan Gleeson said his Catholic upbringing helped inform this role: you think he's going to flee, to save his life, the actor edifies, no. "He's a priest. He would run away only to prevent the sin of murder." In the end, an uplifting forgiveness prevails, despite disturbing details. Kelly Reilly's Fiona is its agent. Said Reilly, "I had to fight Chris for that final moment. I owe John a bottle of whiskey."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.