Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cavalry (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Taking a sinister cue from his brother, the playwright Martin McDonagh, director John Michael McDonagh steers this tense and thoughtful study of an Irish priest, played by the oft-recognizable Brendan Gleeson.

In "Calvary", Father James (Gleeson) is a good priest in a small town. He is patient with most everyone. During confession, an unknown man tells him of sexual abuse that he endured as a child under the hands of another man of the cloth, now several years deceased.

"I'll kill you," the man states flatly, "but not now. Get your affairs together."

Father James is stupefied.

The modest priest tries to push it from his mind, and counsel throughout each day but cannot.

He immerses himself in work, visiting one quirky character after another: a bumbling, self deprecating butcher (Chris O'Dowd), a non believing doctor (Aidan Gillen) a ladies' man (Isaach De Bankolé) a dishonest financier (Dylan Moran) and a monotone bishop (David Mcsavage)

He is at a loss.

Father James is summoned to the aide of his troubled daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) who has recently attempted suicide and he does his best.

Why did this declaration occur to him and who is the man?

He walks to each visit with large, calm and deliberate steps. The huge pea soup green cliffs of Ireland stand impassively aloof in sweeping Kubrickian closeups.

One night during a gun discussion at a pub, the church is incinerated.

Father James visits the local policeman, a known hedonist.

He borrows a gun, but silently refuses to use such things, although remaining philosophically fascinated.

Everywhere he goes, Father James is goaded and coerced for no solid reason, other than to get the better of him. Every person seems under seduction by lascivious, violent and petty forces.

Father James's only solace is a series of talks at the bedside of an ailing writer (M. Emmett Walsh )

The tension of the film is palpable throughout with echoes of McDonagh's own brother of course, but also possessing something of "The American" and "High Noon". Though these influences are clearly in evidence, the flashes of crackling humor combined with its smooth sandstone-like apprehension is unique to this director as seen in his previous outing "The Guard".

While the acting of Brendan Gleeson is nearly mythic in its deadpan stoicism, Dylan Moran deserves high mention too, as a pasty, apathetic, juvenile but oddly insightful man with nothing to live for.

Debauchery and sadistic mischief hover before this pious man like a tri-horned cumulus of Pazazu, or a meteorological devil. James is stripped of action and thought as the disturbing events unfold.

Although the story moves like a tight, punchy thriller, there are also meditative and pensive passages that will provoke multiple sighs. This is a film of theological thought and an ecumenical  character study just as much as a suspense tale of sorts. And, in terms of an analysis of the priestly temperament under legions of doubt, this is a subtle and sound film with an authentic collar under its frock.

As threatening as "Calvary" is, it is no superfluous adrenalin tale; it is full of authenticity and rich in rites.

Brendan Gleeson as the Everyman father is no mere cartoon, but a human questioner whose somewhat immobile yet surprised face also carries with it a sad eventuality. Ultimately, his expression mirrors the Irish landscape in its unending permanence, absent of all commentary or solution.

Write Ian at

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