The film isn't shy about drawing the parallels between Brendan Gleeson's Father James and Christ. He is a good man. He knows that he is to be killed. He dies for the sins of others. In the final moments of the film it's implied that his gospel of forgiveness has at least one convert: his daughter picks up the phone to his killer – a superhuman act of forbearance and mercy.

John Michael McDonagh's approaches the issue of abuse in the Catholic church in a sideways and scattershot fashion. The film's characters treat it with lacerating black humour rather than earnestness. There's something deeply weird about how disconnected the performances are from any shred of sincerity. When Father James picks up his daughter from the train station and sees the evidence of a suicide attempt, he makes a joke, and she responds in kind. It's the sort of wisecrack-rich dialogue you would get in noir – and perhaps this is one.

There is a mystery, after all: who will kill the priest? But actually guessing the identity of the murderer is a mug's game. There's no hint dropped during the priest's rounds through the week that points to the killer. It could be anyone. And in a sense, it is. Father James is persecuted by the society around him, who mock his attachment to a faith and institution that has been discredited.

My favourite character in the film is Dylan Moran's obscenely rich Michael Fitzgerald, who made his millions in finance and then fled to the countryside after the 2008 crisis to avoid prosecution for the 'irregularities' he was responsible for. He makes explicit the tenor of detachment in the film, at times coming close to sounding like Camus in his bemusement at the meaninglessness of existence. The contrast that structures the story is between this community's listless sliding towards suicide and the integrity and courage Father James gains from his faith.

John Michael McDonagh calls attention to the artificiality of his film. At one point Father James discusses with his daughter what the third act twist of their play will be. On many occasions characters comment on the poor lines McDonagh has given them. The effect has the most bite when Aidan Gillen complains that his sarcastic doctor character is a cliche, and that Brendan Gleeson has a better role to play. For me this starts to smell a bit of the filmmaker apologising for his work rather than standing behind it. Admitting that the pieces don't fit doesn't actually make the pieces fit any better. If the film ends up overreaching itself, and relying a little too much on Gleeson's performance to pull it together, it's nonetheless still very watchable. And Gleeson is very good company.

No comments:

Post a Comment