Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is a decent, honest man, a priest who evinces genuine concern for the parishioners in his small County Sligo, Ireland, village.
These are not, however, easy times for the church, or those parishioners, or anyone else for that matter. "Calvary," the new film from John Michael McDonagh, begins with an explicit acknowledgment of that fact when, in the first scene, a churchgoer in confession promises to kill the priest in a week's time. The picture follows Lavelle over the week, through his encounters with various demoralized townsfolk, as his own reasons for joining the priesthood are increasingly called into question.
In McDonagh's vision, the calamities depicted here, both large and small, are all sourced in the sexual abuse scandal that has torn the church asunder. It's a pitch-black rendering of a world that's been permanently soiled, without a place for a man who believes that religion can be a force for good.
McDonagh, who has mastered the black comic tone also practiced by his brother Martin ("In Bruges"), keeps his camera trained on Gleeson, who carries the film with a forceful portrait of a man increasingly resigned to his helplessness in the face of so much destruction.