Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. Ireland/United Kingdom, 2014. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Bórd Scannán na hÉireann, British Film Institute, Lipsync Productions, Reprisal Films, Octagon Films. Screenplay by John Michael McDonagh. Cinematography by Larry Smith. Produced by Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, James Flynn. Music by Patrick Cassidy. Production Design by Mark Geraghty. Costume Design by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh. Film Editing by Chris Gill. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2014. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2014.
John Michael McDonagh, brother of famed playwright Martin and a director in his own right, has made a film so unabashedly concerned with his native land’s cultural issues, hangups and history that it could just as easily be called This Is Ireland. That said, the heart worn on the sleeve does absolutely nothing to prevent this winning drama from being exquisitely captivating, benefiting most beautifully from a sterling lead performance by Brendan Gleeson. He plays a parish priest in County Sligo, calmly tolerant of his followers’ shortcomings and patient in letting them air their woes to his jaded but not dispassionate ear. He is preoccupied the entire time, however, by the ticking time bomb that is set in the film’s opening scene: a man has come to confession and told him he is going to kill him in exactly a week. The confessor was abused from childhood by men of the cloth and, thinking the killing of a bad priest far too mundane to make headlines, has decided that killing a good one will send the message home. Gleeson spends seven days waiting for this High Noon-level showdown by dealing with his estranged daughter (Kelly Reilly), tending to an adulterous, abused wife, an eccentric and dishonest millionaire, a French tourist who has just experienced a tragedy (Marie-Josée Croze), a sexually frustrated and borderline violent teenager, a serial murderer on death row (played by Gleeson’s son Domhnall), a cynical hospital nurse and a good-natured, charismatic cop with a penchant for the company of male hustlers, the priest pushed every moment closer to the limits of what he can bear in a position that has become a jokey commodity. While McDonagh is shameless in the symbolism of Subjects he concerns himself with here (drugs, the Catholic Church, class divide, etc), he creates a collection of characters who are individually rich and textured and scenes of dialogue that are never dull for a second, then punctuates it all with stunning cinematography that captures the beauty of rural Ireland at its most effective. Even if you do find the whole thing hopelessly jingoistic, you have to admit you can’t help but stay to see how it turns out.