Written and directed by John Michael Mc Donagh, this is the second of a loosely based trilogy. The subject matter is not connected, rather locations associated with McDonagh’s background. The first installment was “The Guard” (2011). Described as a black comedy, it might be better described Dark thriller with a touch of dark humour thrown in.
Although described as “dark” this is a very entertaining movie, which from the start drags in the viewer and keeps us alongside to the very end. Brendan Gleeson’s character is that of Father James, the local parish priest in a small rural parish in Sligo. Boarding the coast, there are some fantastic backdrops (having spent two years living in the area, I can say the scenery is every bit as photographed for the film. Fr. James we learn came to the Priesthood later in life, after his wife died. As with any normal person, he has his daemons, he is open about his hard drinking ways in the past, now he controls his life and habits. As “normal” as he is, the villagers, his parish, are what can best be described as an “odd bunch”.
The film opens in confession, here we learn that one of his parishioners was abuse as a child by a priest. In the parishioner’s quest for vengeance, he has decided to kill a priest, not just any priest, but a good priest, someone people will notice. He is told he has just over a week to live, they even make an appointment for the following Sunday on the beach. We are not clear if he actually knows who his killer is. Following a discussion with his less than helpful Bishop (David McSavage), the Bishop feels that the confession was not valid, as absolution was not present and so he should report the issue.
Instead Fr. James uses the week to put his house in order and try find a way to stop what is going to happen. In to the mix comes his adult daughter (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Homes, 2009), recovering from a suicide attempt. We see through her that his relationship with her has been strained over time and in deed still shows some stress marks but they know they have something to work out and so do. They treat each other as adults.
Over the coming days, we see Fr. James deal with his parishioners, the wife beaten by her lover, the lover who has no remorse and even the cuckolded husband, who is quite happy for his wife to have an affair, as it takes the pressure off him and basically they can get on with life. As part of his ministering to his flock he visits an old American writer who is living in a remote area accessible only by boat. While bringing the old writer his messages, he makes a request for a gun (Walter PPK). After some banter Fr. James says he will try and see what he can do. In the course of the next day he pays a visit to the local Police Inspector, to borrow a gun. The inspector is at home, with a male prostitute. Fr. James is not fazed by this or the prostitute’s behaviour. The prostitute is played by Owen Sharpe, I mention this because of his recent role in “’71” playing the young IRA killer, a completely different role, both done well.
As the week goes on, he has to deal with his curate, Fr. Leary (David Wilmot, Vikings 2013) who is not exactly the caring type, more concerned with image rather than substance. Fr. James is rather blunt in his opinion of him as a priest. Indeed one of the defining characteristics of Fr. James is his bluntness. When we see him with the financier on the edge of arrest (Dylan Moran, Black Books, 2000) who is trying to put things right (in his own way). Fr. Leary fawns to Moran’s character, while Fr. James just basically sees through the acts and gets down to business naming a figure and looking for the check.
As the week goes on, we start to see things taking a chilling turn, with his local church being burnt down and even his pet dog killed, we are not told who is responsible for these acts. We see the tensions mount to breaking point, while we also see moments of clam and belief, no more so that the French couple of holiday who were involved in a car crash, the husband is killed, while the wife escapes unhurt, we see in her a person of Faith and in so doing also see his Faith, it is real to him.
He has no airs and graces, when one of the village odd-balls, Milo Herlihy (Killian Scott, Love/Hate 2010-2014) sees Fr. James in church to ask for his advice regarding women; the conversation turns surreal. He basically has urges, possibly to violence , to control these urges he has decided to join the army, which he is convinced is full of psychopaths anyway and so should be a natural home for himself, Fr. James attempts to bring him back to reality by suggesting he read certain magazines, only to have milo say he has already tried them. What we see is a man casting no judgements and genuinely trying to help. His chats with the atheist (and cynical ) doctor, (Aidan Gillen, Love/Hate 2010-2013) also give us an insight to his view on life and his outlook on things in general, while at the same time not forcing a believe or rationalisation on the other person.
In dealing with his parishioners and even his daughter (and by extension himself) we do see a “good Priest”. Fr. James’s character is no Saint, he has his flaws and weaknesses like any person. He is essentially a person who is trying to help is parishioners without overstepping. However the various scenarios thrown up by the locals work at both levels, firstly allowing for a local and immediate (personal response) but also causing us to see the reaction of a kind and compassionate man, even if one who does not suffer fools to gladly.
Among all of the local community there is one who stands out, the altar boy, Mícheál (Mícheál Óg Lane, the Guard, 2011) he stands out for one reason, essentially he has reprised his role in The Guard, as a comic foil for Gleeson. This time it is a little more subtle but equally as good.
This movie shifts to a climax which can only end one of two ways, Fr. James alive or dead. A good man alive or dead. What we saw was a week in the life of a small parish, all seemingly tranquil and calm while below the surface there is violence, loneliness, suffering and pain and only one man has an idea as to what extent the people of the village are suffering in their various ways, just as he is dealing with his own daemons.
It is felt Gleeson might get an Oscar nomination for this role, he deserves it