Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/director John Michael McDonagh and actor Brendon Gleeson re-team (The Guard, 2011) in what can be viewed as one giant leap for both filmmaker and actor. Mr. McDonagh is immensely talented and seems to be a natural at keeping his viewers unsure of what’s coming, and Mr. Gleeson gives his best yet performance of a quite impressive career.
Set and filmed in a western Irish coastal town, the film has a most unusual first scene, including an acknowledgment of such as the priest (Gleeson) says “Certainly a startling opening line“. This occurs in the confessional, with an extreme close-up, as the unseen (by us) parishioner then says “I’m going to kill you Father“. With Sunday week as the promised deadline, the movie follows the Priest with a placard for each day, as he makes his way through consulting the maze of local town characters. He also receives a visit from his daughter (Kelly Reilly), fresh off a suicide attempt (he was married prior to joining the priesthood).
The film bounces from very dark humor to extreme philosophical and theological discussions (faith and mortality) between the town folks and the priest. We quickly learn what a good man (with an imperfect past) he is, and struggle to understand why the locals flash such vitriol his way. The Catholic Church, and all that implies these days, certainly plays a key role, but more than that, this is about the make-up and character of people.
An impressive and talented supporing cast includes Aidan Gillen as the atheist doctor with a dark side, Chris O’Dowd as the local butcher, Orla O’Rourke as his unfaitful wife about town, Isaach DeBankola as one of her chums, Dylan Moran as the conflicted local rich boy, Killian Scott as the frustrated virginal local, Domhnall Gleeson (Brendan’s son) as an incarcerated serial killer, and the always great M Emmet Walsh – back on screen as the local old timer who spins yarns and enjoys attention.
This is not the place to go into detail about the story, as the film is best unwrapped and interpreted by each viewer. Rather than a whodunnit, it has a rare who-is-going-to-do-it element that hovers over each scene. What can be said is that this is exceptional filmmaking: it’s well directed, beautifully photographed (landscapes and aerials), superbly acted, has a terrific script (incredible dialogue), and encourages much discussion.
watch the trailer: