Although John Michael McDonogh's Calvary in many ways picks up where his previous film, The Guard, left off, there are some very discernable and, from Calvary's point of view, dejecting differences. Brendan Gleeson is not one of them, though: Again he turns up as a lone authority figure and voice of reason (this time in the form of a priest) in an Irish small-town community gone seemingly haywire.
The main difference between the two films is that the piercing black comedy from The Guard has been substituted with an ubiquitous affectatious profoundness which is meant to provoke afterthought, perhaps even belief (although in what exactly, I do not know). The problem is, however, that all of the profound conversations between the priest and the various members of his congregation, which is what essentially makes up the film, are thwarted by cliches and – worse even – generally nasty, two-dimensional characters. It's almost as if these characters exist only in order for Gleeson's character to come off as the human one, and thus redeeming the catholic church's value following some horrifying revelations of late – which incidentally is the recurring theme of this film as well.
But no, that would seem like too cheap a shot for someone of McDonough's calibre. He definitely wants to paint a picture of rural Ireland, but his implied message here, that Ireland is beautiful, but the Irish are not, seems out of place, cynical, bordering on downright misanthropic. And unlike in The Guard, there's no tongue-in-cheek, black humour here to redeem the depressing, hollow story and the sad, empty characters that populate it.