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Calvary (2014)
January 16, 2015, 4:14 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John Michael McDonagh
3.5 Stars
CalvaryA misanthropic landowner urinates on a wildly expensive painting in a telling moment of John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary. The drenched canvas is Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors, famed in part for the anamorphic skull featured so prominently in the composition. Just as some art historians have discussed the skull as suggesting death and perhaps even resurrection, the film begins with a similar reminder of mortality when a priest (Brendan Gleeson) is told that he will be murdered in seven days. McDonagh does not shy away from the gloom and misery of such a situation, but he’s ultimately more interested in the golden shower that drenches the Holbein. Nearly everyone in the film seems detached, overindulgent, and ultimately without a destination. Death is not a preoccupation because these people barely register as living. What McDonagh’s screenplay does well is in articulating Gleeson’s downfall from a well-intentioned, essentially good man to the drunkard who fires a gun in a bar. His impending death is not the problem (in fact, his doom is not something that he protests or shows anything but a detached curiosity about), but his dealings with the hopeless bunch that occupies his town is what does him in. It’s a nihilistic picture–thankfully spattered with a few sentimental moments now and then (which McDonagh’s self-referential script indeed calls out as being sentimental)–but Gleeson has proven that he can bring a lot to a film with little more than despair on the mind.

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