“Calvary” Film Review

Morgan Smith

Calvary” is destined for a classic drama status, with beautiful cinematography, screenwriting and acting all coming together to make a fantastically melancholy film.

Photo courtesy of FOX Searchlight. “Calvalry” is playing at the Lyric Cinema Café now

“Calvary” is John Michael McDonagh‘s second feature film, a dark comedy-drama/whodunnit that he both wrote and directed. The film was independently produced and not given a wide release.


“Calvary” stars Brendan Gleeson as  Father James, a good-natured Irish priest who has been threatened to be killed in seven days by an unknown man in confession. Gleeson’s co-stars include Kelly Reilly as James’s daughter, with Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen and a slew of other supporting actors as the townspeople.

The acting:

Gleeson’s acting was brilliant. He exerts a powerful presence the entire film, even in his character’s weakened and vulnerable points. He very much felt like a dad whom you do not want to mess with, but at the same time felt like the most loving person you could ever meet in your life. I deeply connected with him throughout the film.

As for the rest of the cast, the level of difficulty was not high; no other actor had nearly as much screen time as Gleeson, who is in almost every shot. The actors also had to mimic simple, rural life, which does not require much fast-paced, difficult acting.

The other characters are given plenty of time to develop, but not much time to shine. This is due in part to the abnormally large number of supporting actors, with 13 people having essentially the same importance. Kelly Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, and Aidan Gillen all performed their roles perfectly. Aidan Gillen was channeling his character Petyr Baelish from “Game of Thrones,” only dorkier and sporting a strong Irish accent. Overall, the supporting cast complements Gleeson’s performance well.

The screenplay:

This film goes to show how fantastic original screenplays can be. Typically a film will have one or two of those lines that are so powerful that you can’t help but remember them. In “Calvary,” this is almost every other line. The best screenplays take one or a few strong themes and stick with them until the end, incorporating them into everything. “Calvary’s” themes were death and sin/evil, two themes anyone can connect with and spend the whole day contemplating. The two themes are incorporated in almost every line and action.

The cinematography:

I cannot give enough praise to Larry Smith for the shots in this film. Smith takes great pains in all of his films (“Bronson,” “Only God Forgives” and “The Guard“) to ensure that every single shot is perfect. In “Calvary” every scene is neatly done, with no unnecessary shots. The beautiful landscape shots of the Irish landscape coupled with the perfect rural film locations make “Calvary” one of the best looking films I’ve seen this year.

The directing:


John Michael McDonagh is one of the rare directors who writes his own films and does it well. The screenwriter always has more passion for their script than anyone, and that is apparent in “Calvary.” The story is structured and shot neatly, and delivers the perfect tone of a conflicted man faced with death and evil. I will be a fan of McDonagh for life.

How I felt:

The film really left me emotionally impacted, which is quite the rare feeling. I actually had to go and listen to some upbeat music to cure the sadness I felt from events in the film. All I can ever ask from a movie is to make me feel something. If I walk out of the theatre feeling happy, sad, disturbed or in awe, then the film instantly has my seal of approval. “Calvary” does so, helping to add it to my list of favorite movies of 2014.

Collegian Film Beat Writer Morgan Smith can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @MDSFilms.