Brendan Gleeson – what an underrated actor. The brooding, sinister Irish character actor has had some brilliantly memorable roles. However, it is his performance as Father James, the kindhearted Catholic priest in a remote Irish small town that truly shows off his range as an actor.
The McDonagh Brothers (Martin and John Michael) have singlehandedly help prove that the Irish are incredible artistic talents. Both brothers have worked with Gleeson in highly successful films, but it is John Michael McDonagh that truly brings out the brilliance in Brendan Gleeson, both in The Guard and Calvary.
The Catholic Church has become a hot topic over the last few years, so it is very refreshing to see a priest portrayed in a positive light. Although the serious allegations that encapsulate the reputation of the church are featured occasionally in the film as criticisms, Father James doesn’t go near such allegations. Instead, he is a simple priest who wants to simply live his life and make his community stronger. What doesn’t help is the whole bevy of lost souls in the small town, including a vicious atheist doctor, a vulgar millionaire, a wife beating butcher who approves of his wife’s infidelity and Father James’ own suicidal daughter from before he was a priest. Oh, and he is given one week to live by a parishioner who says he will kill James that Sunday on the beach. It is a brilliant character study of all these different, radical personalities, anchored by the brilliantly complex and layered performance Gleeson gives.
A wonderful dark comedy, with pitch black humor scattered throughout the film. Gleeson himself has a very deadpan cynicism that is absolutely hilarious, but the writing also lends itself to making some very subtle, dark jokes.
I also need to praise the brilliant filmmaking approach here – never before has the Irish countryside looked more beautiful and sinister, but even more specifically, the framing of characters in unofficial monologues and discussions add so much to the experience – seeing every single contour of Gleeson’s face, and being able to see the emotion in his eyes allows us to feel a deep connection to the character. Even the epic climax is absolutely brilliantly made, and quite shocking at first, beautiful upon inspection. It is an absolutely superb, brilliantly made film that is incredibly aesthetically pleasing.
I simply just cannot stop praising Gleeson enough. His performance really hit it out of the park. It may not be as showy as many other great performances in similar films, but his quiet dignity and perfect characterization of this dedicated priest who isn’t quite so sure of his own faith, and borders on having a complete breakdown, struggling to keep himself together for the good of the community. It is one of greatest film performances I’ve ever seen, and that just goes to show how underrated and brilliant Gleeson is as an actor.
I must applaud John Michael McDonagh for his approach to the subject matter – the Catholic Church may have some rotten apples, and sadly those few are responsible for the tarnished reputation of the church of late. It took really intelligence and courage for McDonagh to make a film that portrayed a good, honest, wholesome priest, and how he has the intentions that match those that he preaches.
Darkly funny, intelligent and very unique, Calvary is unlike anything I have seen before, and will definitely be considered one of the best of the year, if not perhaps the greatest film achievement of the year.