When a parishioner tells Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) that in one week he’s going to shoot him dead, Lavelle is surprisingly calm about the whole thing. Then again, while he might be a good priest – that’s why the mystery killer chose him, as to his way of thinking killing a bad one wouldn’t really help make his point about the evil-to-the-core nature of the Catholic Church – but in this small windswept Irish village where adultery, wife-beating, poverty and drug use are rife, nobody has much love for a good priest.
Writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s excellent follow-up to The Guard isn’t all gloom (it’s actually very funny at times), but despite a comedian-heavy cast (including Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Aidan Gillen and Kelly Reilly as Lavelle’s suicide-surviving daughter – seems he came to the priesthood late in life) and loads of sharp dialogue it’s often fairly bleak viewing.
With Ireland’s financial troubles and the Catholic Church’s endless scandals hanging heavy over the rocky landscape, Lavelle’s basic decency is constantly pitted against people who care little for him and even less for what he stands for. He takes on the sins of others and tries to make things right as best he can; then again, he does also shoot up a pub. Clearly even a good priest has his limits. Gleeson’s first-rate performance makes watching this particular one reach deep into compelling viewing.