Christianity is so stained into the Western cloth that, really, that garment is more stain than cloth at this point. And Catholicism is soaked especially deep into those fibers, if not in terms of active faith, certainly the rituals. Maybe best evinced by Pope Francis joining Twitter (though Miley Cyrus has more followers; 18.5 million to the Pope's 4.4 million), the Catholic Church has taken strides to modernize themselves. Complicating this retrofitting is an ongoing history of ignominious abuse that is so egregious that it has, sadly, become a punchline by now. The depth of tradition and the prevalence of repugnant malfeasance can't help but make for imbalanced communities.
Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a staffless shepherd to a flock on the West coast of Ireland. Hearing Confession, the Father is informed that he'll be killed the next Sunday. The would-be killer has had some of the above-mentioned repugnant wrong done to him, and his intention is to punishment an innocent representative of the faith instead of the guilty one. As we travel through the community, meeting its residents, we're ostensibly wondering who will do the killing--and then, gradually, who won't do it.
The second film in director John Michael McDonagh's "Suicide Trilogy" (following The Guard), Calvary--Calvary being the hill on which Christ was crucified--is as much a whodunit (or, who'lldoit) as it is a tour through a community that's come unmoored from its religious tradition. Said community is made up of the great ensemble of Dylan Moran, Chris O'Dowd, Marie-Josée Croze, Isaach De Bankolé, M. Emmet Walsh, and Aidan Gillen. Possibly about to leave them, the film weighs the worth of Father James in their lives--and the actual worth of their lives. The man, on the cusp of woebegoneness but still harboring a spark, quietly galumphs around town like a superhero who's lost his powers, but is still trying to do good for the self-destructive residents.
The more serious questions of morality knock consistently through the film like water under a dock. As well, the mystery of who threatened the Father is never far from thought. McDonagh has plenty of chances to get heavy-handed, stern, and morose, but manages a kind of quaintness and levity and humour. Imagine a version of Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town where at the outset it's revealed that one Mariposa resident will kill another before the book's end.