Calvary **1/2 (out of five)
Writer / director John Michael McDonagh has stated numerous times that the idea for Calvary was borne during a heavy drinking session with star Brendan Gleeson, and unfortunately the sort of slapped-dash nature of a night on the tiles is ever-present in the finished film’s maddeningly vague and unfunny “black comic” screenplay, its often facile direction, and even its desperately uneven cinematography. It’s a self-satisfied mess.
Perhaps its strongest crime is its steadfast refusal to have any point of view, preferring to fence-sit outrageously, asking us to care for “one good priest” while semi-condemning – well, perhaps obliquely, barely condemning – well, making mention of – the Catholic Church’s astonishing history of housing child abusers within its representative ranks.
The set-up is rather clever – a man “confesses” to a priest (Gleeson, subdued to the point of being bland) that he plans to kill him the following Sunday. We then count-down to that Sunday, High Noon style, as Gleeson has a seemingly unending series of two-hander scenes with the town’s self-consciously quirky populace: the slag, the wife-beater, the rent-boy, the rich dick… you get the picture. Each becomes a “suspect” for the murder that is yet to be committed, but caring “who’s gonna do it” becomes trying as the performances vary wildly, from passable (Chris O’Dowd) to astonishingly bad (Isaach De Bankolé).
Last year Philomena gave us a very funny Catholic tale that also struggled to contain its rage: it was blistering both ways, funny and furious. Calvary is the opposite: it couldn’t be tamer, and its straining attempts at humour consistently fall very, very flat.