Calvary Movie Review 0 141

calvary-movie-review

A darkly comedic sense of humour clearly runs in the McDonagh family as after Martin McDonagh burst onto the scene with In Bruges and then Seven Psychopaths, soon followed his brother John Michael McDonagh with The Guard and now Calvary, a brilliant mix of quiet power and jet black humour.

Once again working with his Guard star Brendan Gleeson in the lead role, McDonagh’s second directorial feature follows Father James Lavelle, a peaceful Irish priest who is one day threatened during confession by one of the members of his parish. During the week’s countdown to his potential death, he reaches out to help those in need in his community as well as comforting his troubled daughter (Kelly Reilly).

Dealing, as it does, with tricky subject matter like allegations of sexual abuse in the priesthood you might think that McDonagh’s shared brand of black humour might fall over into callous bad taste, especially when you consider its shocking, frankly unprintable first words that, in one of its many self-referential moments of humour, spills over into the dialogue, “That’s certainly a startling opening line.” However, he’s an excellent writer who has a real way with words and he treats that central subject with the respect it deserves while finding plenty of humour elsewhere.

That being said it’s a far less overtly comedic effort than The Guard, with laughs coming more naturally out of everyday circumstances and small interactions than outright attempts at shocking the audience. The film manages a deft mix of small community dealings and grand symbolism with a stunningly achieved sense of impending doom as the days go on, heading towards the fated “Sunday week” in which Father Lavelle will supposedly meet his end. The close-quarters friendly banter and antagonism is beautifully complimented by sweeping shots of the Irish landscape accompanied by a primal, ominous score by Patrick Cassidy. It’s a film of stark individual moments and scenes – one in particular involving Gleeson visiting a convicted murderer, played by his real life son Domhnall is especially chilling – but one that also works completely as a whole, hinting at something significant beyond our grasp. It’s a film that’s more than the some of its parts.

Gleeson, who was downright hilarious in the director’s previous film, is perfectly cast here and gives an achingly soulful performance that’s among his best ever work, playing an instantly iconic character that’s at once believable and almost mythical as he walks through his community going about his priestly duties, seemingly unperturbed by what may await him by week’s end. Soon after its alarming opening sequence in which we stay completely focused on him as his life is threatened, it morphs into a strange little game of whodunit – or rather, “whowilldoit” – adding another dimension to the drama as we survey the various members of the community to see who’s most likely to be the culprit. There’s Aidan Gillen as the local mortician, at odds with Father Lavelle because of his atheism; Chris O’Dowd as the local butcher who likes nothing more than to conversationally mess with people in the pub; and Dylan Moran as millionaire Michael Fitzgerald who seems unsatisfied with everything in life despite his wealth, to name but a few. The reveal of the would-be assassin doesn’t entirely hold water when you consider what the person has done in the previous 90 or so minutes but it’s not enough to derail a compelling and often very funny story.

With only his second directorial effort, McDonagh has progressed leaps and bounds in terms of maturity of filmmaking with a haunting, powerful and wholly memorable film that has a vein of dark humour running through it without ever treating its central themes flippantly. It’s also a film that doesn’t judge – either its characters or, for example, the priesthood – while at the same time never shying away from dealing with things head on. That’s a tough thing to achieve but McDonagh’s film does so with aplomb. It gets you laughing and leaves you thinking, grabbing you from minute one and not letting go until its haunting final shot. Brilliant.

Calvary is released in UK cinemas on April 11th.

Previous ArticleNext Article
I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Movie Review: Home Again 0 530

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 556

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

Warning: mysql_query(): Access denied for user 'rtmiller'@'localhost' (using password: NO) in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 17

Warning: mysql_query(): A link to the server could not be established in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 17

Warning: mysql_fetch_row() expects parameter 1 to be resource, boolean given in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 17

Warning: mysql_query(): Access denied for user 'rtmiller'@'localhost' (using password: NO) in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 45

Warning: mysql_query(): A link to the server could not be established in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 45

Warning: mysql_query(): Access denied for user 'rtmiller'@'localhost' (using password: NO) in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 47

Warning: mysql_query(): A link to the server could not be established in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 47

Warning: mysql_fetch_row() expects parameter 1 to be resource, boolean given in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 47