Sometimes, concept is everything. The film begins in a confessional where the confessor tells a priest that he was raped and abused by a minister when he was a child, but can not seek revenge because the man is dead. He then tells the priest he will kill him in one week’s time because murdering an innocent priest will make waves. So begins only the opening repulsion of humanity that the film then spends the next two hours piling on.
In the film, Father James (Brendan Gleeson), facing down his own mortality, tries to look after his congregation of broken individuals ranging from Simon, (Isaach De Bankole) the woman beater, to Teresa (Marie-Josee Croze) the temptress, to the Writer (M. Emmet Walsh) the old suicidal depressive, to Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran) the manic, drunken rich man to even his own fellow Father Leary (David Wilmot), the boring faker. It is hard to believe that out of the community, not one person is of any real decency, but apparently in this land, where people have been screwed over by the wealthy, the Church and themselves, nothing is wholesome. The only saving grace for Father James is his daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly), a formerly suicidal addict who is just getting onto her feet. Their relationship is the only glimmer of any hope.
To say that Calvary (2014) has a pessimistic view of humanity would not do the film justice; it has one of the most depressing views of civilization put to screen, and it does not even feature Nazis, barbarians or terrorists. What it does feature are lost souls, each damaged in different ways, either through sex or money or laziness. Some try to repent, most do not, but they all live in this Irish town with no hope. With Father James trying to make amends with his parish before his possible end in just one week’s time, he has to look each of these individuals in the eye, and try to find something, just one thing, to represent some good he brought to the world. To sit through this agony is tantamount to torture at times, and where the film asks us to question our own humanity and the legacy of our world through the horrible portrayals of a small town, the optimists will instead wonder how much longer the depression onscreen can last.
The strongest thing the film has going for it is its concept, one that could have be handled in so many different ways that would shed true light on mankind and how we leave our world. Director John Michael McDonagh instead leaves us with a bleak view of humanity’s incompetence with no rewarding attributes, one that needs to be washed away with a shower of happiness immediately after viewing.