Opening with a quote from St. Augustine: "Despair not, one of the thieves was spared. Presume not, one of the thieves was not." Set in a small village on the wind-swept coastline of Ireland, this subtly provocative thriller begins when a good-hearted cleric, Father James (Brendan Gleeson), is threatened in the confessional booth.
Sexually abused years ago by a pedophile priest who has since died, one of Father James's bitter parishioners is determined to wreak revenge by killing him in exactly seven days: "I'm going to kill you because you've done nothing wrong." Over the next week, weary Father James wrestles not only with the concept of his own mortality but also the declining influence of the Catholic Church in contemporary society, as he confronts various members of the rural community, gruffly making amends and meeting with disparate suspects, all of whom have been sinning for many years.
There's the sinister, perversely atheistic doctor (Aiden Gillen) and the rich, despairing businessman (Dylan Moran), along with the vulgar butcher (Chris O'Dowd), whose promiscuous wife (Orla O'Rourke) is blatantly having an affair with an African immigrant auto mechanic (Isaach de Bankole). He counsels a jailed serial rapist/killer (Domhall Gleeson, Brendan's real-life son) and is scorned by a policeman (Gary Lydon) and male prostitute (Owen Sharpe).
It seems that Father James' only benign acquaintances are an elderly American author (M. Emmett Walsh) and a philosophical Frenchwoman (Marie Josee Croze), whose husband just died. Finally, Father James, a widower before he became a priest, tries to counsel his confused, suicidal daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly), who perceives his becoming ordained in the church as abandonment.
An Oscar nomination seems inevitable for Brendan Gleeson, who propels the elliptical, ticking-clock psychodrama, conceived by Irish writer/director John Michael McDonagh ("The Guard") and magnificently photographed by Larry Smith. Filming took place over a period of 29 days in the weather-beaten fishing village of Easkey in County Sligo, Ireland.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Calvary" is an intense, compassionate 8, revolving around the complicated concept of forgiveness.