Grade: A

Directed by John Michael McDonagh
Starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly

John Michael McDonagh's Cavalry is a slow-moving paradox of faith, madness, and redemption. While none of those ingredients are new, McDonagh finds an interesting and new way to link them together in a moving, beautifully filmed thriller.

Brendan Gleeson stars as Father James, a well-intended priest with his own past. He spends his days helping others and hearing their confessions. During one of these routine meetings, the priest listens to a confession rich with with sadness, guilt, and shame, as a parishioner divulges his experiences having been abused by a priest as a child. The end of the confession comes with the revelation that Father James' life will be taken on the following Sunday as retribution for the pain that other priests have caused. The days after are a mix of dark and demented, but Father James never lets the madness get the best of him.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Larry Smith, the Irish landscapes that set the background for the encroaching drama brings a certain panache to the clever and important dialogue written by McDonagh. The performances by supporting players Chris O'Dowd and Kelly Reilly are the perfect accessories to Gleeson's Oscar-worthy lead performance, one of the year's best. Calvary works best in the subtle details that move it along, never relying on over-the-top storyline arcs or unbelievable premises.

As a commentary on a very topical subject (that's, unfortunately, been a topical subject for decades), it falls in line with other works that broached the topic, but in different ways. Where Doubt offered an accusatory tone to a priest that may, or may not, be guilty of committing the crime, Calvary offers a Jesus-like character, innocent of any crime, but being forced to carry the shame, fear, and ultimate punishment. A story of martyrdom has never been so beautiful or harrowing as it is here.

While the tone is very clear and the sights are incredible, the film does teeter a little slow here and there, but power through it and you'll be happy you did. It's been a while since a film has felt like such a true piece of art.

Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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