Irish director John Michael McDonagh previous film “The Guard” was a clever and darkly humorous film that contained a justifiably lauded central performance from Brendan Gleeson. In “Calvary”, McDonagh works with Gleeson again with the actor giving another excellent performance. But while there are still elements of the humour prevalent in “The Guard”, “Cavalry” is a much more introspective and existential examination of life.

We begin the film with Father James (Gleeson) taking confession. There, an unknown parishioner reveals that he has been sexually abused by a priest in his past. Furthermore, he announces his intention to kill Father James in one week’s time as an act of retribution. Rather than actively try and find out the identity of his would-be murderer, Father James beings preparing for his end and goes into the community to discover what kind of a difference he has made. There he discovers a community of lost souls that is rife with self-righteousness. As he begins to find that he may not have helped people as much as had hoped we also begin to discover more about Father James and the past that brought him to the point.

At the heart of “Calvary” is the performance of Gleeson. Despite his gruff exterior, Father James is a fundamentally decent person trying to make sense of his – and other people’s – complicated lives and Gleeson is both warm and engaging.

This is not a film in which answers are always forthcoming. Instead it’s an examination of lives lived and promises not fulfilled. It’s an often dark and dour piece of work (though there are some moments of quiet comedy) but it’s also consistently compelling.

PÖFF / Laurence Boyce

Ireland / UK 2014