Sunday, 13 April 2014


There is considerably more scope for psychological pontification on the stage than on the screen, especially when it can be succinctly resolved within the piece itself. John Michael McDonagh (one name will do, John), apparently now more confident in his innate comedic abilities than he was in The Guard, applies this such highbrow theatrical crutch to Calvary, and the direct effect is stirring. Calvary is a thoughtful film, in that it is full of thought, rather than being thoughtful in tone, and McDonagh's screenplay intelligent and astute, in that most fundamental dramaturgical manner. Beneath the rancid facades of these garrulous creatures, real human beings seem to exist, struggling to be heard past McDonagh's contrived dialogue and be seen past Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh's ostentatious costumes. The conduit for spiritual debate is a catholic priest, as appropriate a figure in whom to feed all of McDonagh's intellective affectations. And so, Calvary is an engrossing, perceptive and even emotionally moving film... until it isn't. The nature of cinema is that it can be revisited in its original, identical form. Fork out to see one of McDonagh's stage works a second time, and you can be guaranteed a materially different experience. But a film must possess clandestine content, deeper layers to be discovered upon a repeat viewing. And Calvary is a dud in this regard - its emotive qualities could then be dismissed as manipulative, its methods of achieving them hackneyed. Its philosophical depth is spent entirely upon hearing it spoken the first time, and its cliches are suddenly so much more visible the second. At the least, a film must possess content sturdy and stimulating enough to allow for its debates to continue even after the credits have rolled, and McDonagh's lust for catharsis denies his film even that. Calvary is an interesting, dramatically satisfying work of theatre. And that's where it ought to have been made.