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In The Name Of A Father: Calvary

Updated on November 26, 2015

A priest hears a statement in confession that could change his life in Calvary. Brendan Gleeson stars as Father James, an Irish widow who joined the priesthood after his wife's passing. In confession one Saturday, a man who claims sexual abuse as a boy from a now-deceased priest wants to kill Father James to make a statement. This man says he will do this a week from Sunday following services. While he goes about his ministry and his personal business, James ponders the actiions he plans to take against the man he tells his bishop that he knows. The local physician, Frank Harte (Aiden Gillan), who's lived with a problem he had with a patient of his, tells James about the mind of sex abuse victims. He gets a gun from the retired police Inspector Stanton (Gary Lydon). He's also a regular at the local pub, run by Brendan Lynch (Pat Shortt).

James also gets a visit from his daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly), who felt so estranged from her father, she attempted suicide. During their time together, he reassures her that their family ties never wavered, even though he has devoted himself to a religious life. While the people in the town might respect the surplice and cassock, they also don't always like James's advice or opinions. He knows the wife of Jack Brennan (Chris O'Dowd) has been involved with Simon (Isaach de Bankole), but each of the three people want something different to happen. A local wealthy businessman, Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran), admits much of his wealth has been obtained illegally, but wants to put some money into the church as an act of contrition. James has philospohical differences with Father Leary (David Wilmot) about how their church should be run. In the middle of this week, somebody torches the church and kills James's dog.

Almost anyone with a knowledge of the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth would see a title like Calvary and recognize it as a spoiler. Also, anyone who recognizes a voice without seeing a face will recognize who made the threat against Father James. The film, written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, retells some of the events of the final week of Jesus's life. McDonagh puts those Gospel elements into a modern context, using the very real subject of priestly abuse in the story. The Catholic Church has a far greater acceptance among people in contemporary society than it did in Jesus' day, but the followers don't always follow James's example or words. The decision of James to get a gun seems similar to the decision of the apostles to try to fight to save Jesus with their swords. Fiona could be seen as a Mary Magdalene-like figure in this movie. The bond between father and daughter are not the ones alleged to have existed between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but Fiona's actions before the events here would be construed as sinful, but she wants to make something of her life as she moves forward. McDonagh shows James as a man with faults, yet willing to live and face whatever good or evil comes his way.

Gleeson gives humanity to his portrayal as Father James, who gave up most of his worldly goods to live the sort of life Jesus did. He brings a great knowledge of the world to his vocation, and great patience for people who need guidance, such as a socially awkward young man thinking of enlisting to improve himself. As James, Gleeson shows his patience does have its limits, especially with Michael. Reilly is very good as Fiona, trying to get back into life and better understand her father's new life. Gillen provides a darkly comic view of life as Dr. Harte, and O'Dowd shows he's as adept as dramatic roles as he is in comic roles, like the ones that gained him notice in Bridesmaids and Thor: The Dark World. M. Emmet Walsh also adds fine support as an elderly writer befriended by James, and Gleeson's son Domhnall has a cameo as the very disturbed Freddie Joyce, who's incarcerated for some very disturbing crimes.

At one point in Calvary, a character makes a very interesting observation about the crucifixion of Jesus. Most wouldn't hold that view, but he at least makes the case for that opinion. Father James finds himself in a similar situation, and he has to make a potential life-or-death decision. Calvary shows a priest who lives his ministry the best way he knows, and does touch lives with his caring ways. In a world filled with cynicism about so many issues, Father James echoes some of that cynicism. However, he never lets his feelings get in the way of the way he has chosen to live. He observes the secular world, and uses his observations to keep love and optimism going.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Calvary three stars. A man shows he's willing to bear his own cross.


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