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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

The God Delusion

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday September 4, 04:41 pm
John Michael McDonagh puts morality under the microscope once again

Calvary

Roxy (opens Friday 12)

4/5

The McDonagh brothers are shaping modern Irish cinema the same way Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan did a couple of decades ago (minus the history lessons). Along with well written, entertaining storylines, Martin and John Michael McDonagh focus on morality — or the lack thereof. The pictures they paint are never pretty, but they’re always palatable thanks to their dark sense of humour and the deep humanity of their characters.

Martin is the flashiest of the two (In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are cult favourites), while John Michael is more low-key (The Guard), but just as piercing. Both are fatalistic, and both often choose Brendan Gleeson as the moral centre of their movies.

Calvary is John Michael’s latest. Gleeson is Father James, a Catholic priest who receives some seriously disturbing news during confession. A disgruntled churchgoer who was abused by a minister as a child announces he’ll murder the priest in one week, as retribution for his suffering. Father James had nothing to do with the horrific act of the past, of course, but he’s guilty by association.

Although the audience remains in the dark about who’s threatening Father James for most of the movie, the priest knows exactly who it is — and how far he’s willing to go. But he’s unwilling to leave his flock adrift (his closest colleague is remarkably out of touch), so he continues to visit his parishioners in an attempt to bring them closer to God.

The heartbreaking part? His efforts almost always go to waste: the “faithful” may pay lip service on Sundays, but the concept of Christian living escapes them every other day. More often than not Father James’ advice is received with contempt and even physical violence.

Father James isn’t exactly a saint himself — and he’s definitely not looking to be a martyr. His supposedly under-control alcoholism rears its ugly head on an all-too-frequent basis, and the fact he discovered his “calling” late in life has had a devastating effect on his depression-prone daughter (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Holmes), making him indirectly responsible for her suicide attempts.

Along with the commanding presence of Gleeson, Calvary features a remarkable cast of recognizable (if not exactly famous) actors as Father Jones’ lost sheep. Comedian Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) and Game of Thrones favourite Aidan Gillen in particular do fine work in far more ambiguous roles than the ones they’re known for.

Calvary is the rare drama that sees value in the influence of the Catholic Church over the community, although such worth is directly related to the quality of the clergy, and it also points an accusatory finger towards the congregation. Without revealing the identity of Father James’ tormentor, I can tell you the outcome doesn’t matter all that much. This is the story of a priest and his realization that the impact of his work is mostly negligible.

When a well-crafted movie is bold enough to acknowledge that religion can’t save everybody — or possibly anybody — but instead merely offer a lifestyle, it’s worth your attention.

 

Life of Crime

Broadway

3.5/5

Tons of older crime novels romanticize the outlaw lifestyle — but Elmore Leonard was doing the opposite, far before it was fashionable. The Switch, for example, came out in 1978 and introduced to the world Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara, two career criminals whose half-baked plans seldom reached the desired conclusion.

Most people got to meet (less palatable) versions of Ordell and Louis in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 movie Jackie Brown. Now comes the film version of their origin story, retitled Life of Crime.

Recently freed from prison, the nefarious pair (Yasiin Bey — best-known as Mos Def — and John Hawkes) come up with a clever scheme that they think should be worth a bucketload of cash: kidnap socialite Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) and force her husband Frank (Tim Robbins) to pay for her return with illegal funds, in order to keep the police out of the operation.

Simple, right?

Well, no. Ordell and Louis don’t know that Frank has little use for his wife — and he’s swiftly convinced by his lover (Isla Fisher) to let her die. Worse, the accomplice assigned to keep an eye on Mickey is dangerously unbalanced. Oh, and just for the kicks, Louis develops a crush her. Since loyalty has definitely left the building, it’s anybody’s game.

Writer/director Daniel Schechter crams a densely packed story into 98 minutes that somehow feel brisk and easygoing. The cast is superb (Jennifer Aniston has rarely been this good), particularly Bey, who conveys a hint of menace behind a good-natured exterior.

 

Because of the nature of the story, once everybody has revealed their hand the movie descends into chaos and loses some of its charm. But still, as all-star capers go, this is one of the good ones.

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