Film Review: Calvary

Calvary Film PosterFather James is an innocent, good-natured Irish priest, but his life is thrown into disarray when someone threatens to kill him during a confession.

John Michael McDonagh’s 2011 dark comedy The Guard has become a bit of a cult hit and Calvary looks set to do exactly the same. It only received a limited release at cinemas so is likely to gain most fans from home viewings, which is a bit of a shame as it’s well worthy of far more attention.

Whilst McDonagh and his brother Martin (In BrugesSeven Psychopaths) might be best known for their dark comedies, Calvary is practically pitch black in its humour, verging on straight-up drama territory. There is still some comedy in there but it largely arises from the small, individual moments and interactions between the characters rather than any major incidents.

Because it’s the script that really shines in Calvary, as is the case with practically all of the McDonaghs’ work. The plot is relatively irrelevant for large chunks, but the script is always razor sharp with plenty of satire and social commentary. It also helps that it’s masterfully delivered by Brendan Gleeson (and everyone else) who perfectly blends his compassion with anger and hurt. This is proof that Gleeson is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated actors working at the moment.

The Irish landscape also plays a big part in making the film successful, as it did with The Guard, making the area feel remote and totally isolated, as if what happens will never be uncovered by the rest of the world. Despite the wide open spaces, it makes the film feel very claustrophobic, almost Straw Dogs-like, and adds to the feeling that Father James’ fate is inevitable.

The only thing that I felt didn’t really work was that it felt a little easy to do the whole priest and child abuse angle (not a spoiler – it’s mentioned in the first scene). It’s a massive issue, but just felt a little cheap. Other than that there’s very little to criticise. Calvary will no doubt go largely unnoticed by many but it’s well worth your time if you want a film that looks superb, is on the whole magnificently written and superbly acted.


  • Wonderful script
  • Great cinematography
  • Brilliant acting, particularly from Gleeson


  • Slightly predictable in its portrayal of the clergy

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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18 thoughts on “Film Review: Calvary

  1. Stuart says:

    Fair call, we watched it the other night. was hoping for a bit more humour.

  2. Crackerjack stuff Chris. Watched this the other day and loved it. Review coming soon!

  3. Great review, man. Very curious about this one, as I’ve read very different reviews.

  4. CMrok93 says:

    It’s interesting in how the movie plays around with being both humorous, while dark, sometimes all at the same time. It doesn’t always work, but it’s at least intriguing to see play out on screen. Good review.

  5. ruth says:

    I really dug The Guard, LOVE the unusual combo of Gleeson & Don Cheadle. This one does look much darker, I actually thought it was a straight drama. I definitely will rent this for Gleeson!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Couldnt agree more Chris. I absolutely loved this film and its probably my favourite of the year so far.

  7. chris2508 says:

    Good review Chris. I loved this film, with a dark tone but not too heavy, with just the right amount of humour. Gleeson was outstanding and so was the whole cast and as you say the cinematography was captivating.

  8. sati says:

    I keep hearing such great things but I couldn’t even finish The Guard, so that’s the only thing holding me back. But I’m a big fan of Gleeson and Kelly Reilly, so I’ll definitely try to find the time to see this one.

  9. Loved this film. I think it’s much better than The Guard. Brendan Gleeson is really underrated. Great review mate

  10. Tom says:

    Top work Chris, you know my thoughts on it already lol. I cannot say I have any wiggle room to disagree with your points here, but on the whole and for me, I would never describe this as a particularly pleasant bit of entertainment. It’s stinging social commentary, and very important stuff, at that. But man, there’s just way too many unsavory characters here.

    • Tom says:

      (You didn’t say that it was a pleasant bit of entertainment of course, but I’ve seen others say that and I found that puzzling)

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