Grace and Forgiveness Abound In ‘Calvary’

John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary is one of the best films of 2014.

Calvary centers on a priest, Father James, a man with a checkered past who has found refuge inside the walls of the church, and who has a natural gift for reaching others. The townsfolk seem to get along with him, even if they occasionally take offense to his oftentimes judgmental tone. He is a well-respected man. We see evidence of this throughout the film, as he offers grace and forgiveness to those around him, reminding each individual – even the lowliest types – that they are children of God with a purpose.

Even so, in this small town in Ireland, blind faith is frowned upon. Times are different. To many, God is a fairy tale. Others feel that God has abandoned them outright. With the spiritual climate in such turmoil, Father James has much work on his hands – not to mention a rocky relationship with his emotionally damaged daughter.

Things take a dark turn when a victim of child sexual abuse visits the confessional. After revealing some of the horrific details of his abuse, he vows to murder Father James, if for no other reason than to rid the world of something good. The man tells him that he has exactly one week to get his affairs in order. Throughout the course of the film, Father James’ faith will be tested in many unexpected ways for the first time in a long while, as he faces his own personal calvary.

John Michael McDonagh has given us a rare treasure in Calvary. With so many negative and cliched portrayals of priests that plague the cinemas these days, it is refreshing to see a film that deals with a three-dimensional, albeit flawed, human being. Brendan Gleeson takes on the role of Father James, and this is definitely one of the best performances of his career. Chris O’Dowd and Kelly Reilly are also memorable in two important supporting roles.

There are many beautiful moments of grace to be found in Calvary. It is a near-perfect exploration of faith and doubt, the far-reaching consequences of sin, and the power of love. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

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