|'It is difficult to think of more ways to give a nation a thorough kicking than McDonagh manages here, and yet, come the finale, there is a level of willingness to move on. 'Forgiveness', Father James tells us, 'has been highly underrated'.'|
Fulfilling the promise of The Guard, Calvary, John Michael McDonagh's second film, sees the director move out of the 'one to watch' category and firmly into the 'must be watched' pigeon hole. A state of the nation address as angry as it is slyly optimistic, McDonagh's searing film is attention-grabbing, shocking and laugh out loud funny in equal measure. It delivers a eulogy for Ireland past and wishes for Ireland future: asking as much for forgiveness as it does demand a 21st Century chance.
At McDonagh's nation's centre there sits, of course, a priest: Brendan Gleeson's Father James, a man who seems lost in an Ireland presented from the very start as a typical, picturebook rendering. Celtic music plays over the opening, as we glide over emerald hills and dramatic beach fronts.
The director though is quick to reveal something rotten at the angelic core. In a bravura opening scene, the camera stays fixed to Gleeson's face as a parishoner uses the sanctity of the confessional box to inform James that he is going to kill him for the church's past ills. The hidden diatribe feels like a metaphor for the rest of the film, and for the inhabitants of James' village, who slowly reveal themselves to be rather like the inhabitants of The Village Of The (Morally) Damned. Aidan Gillen is a searingly cynical atheist doctor. The barman (Pat Shortt) would not look out of place in Royston Vasey.
To rub salt into the wounds of where Ireland has got to, backed of course by the actions of the priesthood, the only other character that shares Father James level of honour and honesty is an outsider: Marie-Josée Croze as a French traveller who comes to this land and is promptly injured in a crash involving drunk locals. It is difficult to think of more ways to give a nation a thorough kicking than McDonagh manages here, and yet, come the finale, there is a level of willingness to move on. 'Forgiveness', Father James tells us, 'has been highly underrated'.
Whilst McDonagh is administering his country-wide beating, the director's exemplary script, surely one of the best of the year, plays out as small stand alone interactions that both contribute to the state of the nation address and work as miniature sketches. The irreverent humour of The Guard is back ('she was either bipolar or lactose intolerant. One of the two') now mixed in with laughs that push issues. 'I don't think Sligo is too high on Al Queda's agenda', James tells army-wannabe Milo (Killian Scott). The threat is, of course, much closer.
The film is McDonagh's - there's a great deal of directorial control here - but that doesn't mean other areas should not be praised. Patrick Cassidy's Celtic-inflected score is beautiful. Gleeson, a reliable presence for some time now, is predictably excellent. In support, Kelly Reilly pushes herself closer to genuine leading lady contention, whilst Gillen is still one of the most beguiling, interesting performers going.
This is McDonagh's picture though. You could call it a calling card, but only if calling cards now come in metre high versions, capable of knocking you out with a wild flail of tempered cardboard. On every level, a superb film.