Every wondered what an Irish Western might look like? Gaze upon the first trailer for Calvary, the second feature by John Michael McDonagh, and wonder no longer; its hero is a sardonic, jaded priest, its outlook grim, its comedy as black as pitch. Picture a classic like High Noon, or perhaps something along the lines of Man of the West, but set among Ireland’s coastal hamlets rather than the harsh American West, and you should have a reasonable idea of what to expect from Calvary.
Of course, The Guard, McDonagh’s 2011 directorial debut, is easily the best predictor of what Calvary will be all about; both of them transplant conventions of distinctly American genres into unmistakably Irish settings, both of them feature a morbid sense of gallows humor, and both of them star Irish acting legend Brendan Gleeson. But Calvary‘s trailer boasts a somber melancholy in comparison to The Guard‘s buddy cop cheekiness, suggesting that McDonagh’s latest may be far bleaker than anyone might have anticipated.
Calvary revolves around Gleeson’s local area priest, Father James Lavelle, a good, well-intentioned man chained to serve a community of malcontents in Ireland’s County Sligo. But he has more to contend with than grumpy parishioners; he’s been marked for death, and from the supposedly safe confines of the confessional to boot. With certain doom imminent, James goes about settling his business, tending to his flock, and trying to whittle down a list of suspects to figure out who wants to kill him.
The clip has its share of one-liners and quips; Gleeson has the job of delivering most of them, but a few one-offs are uttered by his co-stars, like Bridesmaids‘ Chris O’Dowd. Mostly, the purpose of this footage is to set up Cavalry‘s driving whodunit, or, more accurately, who will do it. The results don’t look pretty, but they do look compelling, and if nothing else, the film will have Gleeson – who has appeared in films ranging from In Bruges (directed by McDonagh’s kid brother, Martin), to the Harry Potter franchise – providing its central performance.
Early response suggests that Gleeson’s efforts here do indeed elevate Calvary significantly, but he has an impressive cast of able thespians at his side, too; alongside O’Dowd, there’s Game of Thrones‘ Aiden Gillen, as well as Kelly Reilly (Flight), Dylan Moran (Shaun of the Dead), Isaach de Bankole, and Gleeson’s own son, Domnhall (About Time, and, soon enough, Star Wars: Episode VII). Could be that Calvary proves its worth just on the strength of its acting alone.
Fox Searchlight will give the film a theatrical run this summer, so we’ll see for sure once it starts making the rounds in the US.
Calvary hits theaters on August 1st, 2014.