Calvary Movie Poster Image




Mature material in thoughtful, powerful Irish drama.
  • Review Date: August 1, 2014
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie doesn't have one clear message, but it brings up many spiritual, moral, and religious ideas and leaves many of them open for pondering. Among them are issues of suicide, money, sex, revenge, adultery, faith, death, memory, and -- probably most importantly -- forgiveness.

Positive role models

Father James Lavelle is clearly a good man, though he struggles with drinking too much. He's well-read and knowledgeable, and he tries to help people. He has strong ideas about people and faith and forgiveness and integrity. He's not easily flustered, but he does lose his cool from time to time. He may inspire people to try to be better.


A verbal description of a boy being raped by a priest; phrases "anally and orally" and "I bled" are used. Guns are shown and sometimes randomly fired. A character is shot twice, with blood spurting. A woman is shown wearing bandages from a suicide attempt; characters mention that she was supposed to slice "down and not across." A woman is shown with a black eye, the victim of abuse. A dog is killed, shown with a slit, bloody throat. A man has bloody hands and face and bruises after a fight. A mention of cannibalism. A church is burned.


A local woman is openly cheating on her husband with another man. It's also suggested that she may have more lovers. One character seems to be a kind of gigolo with many male lovers. He's shown shirtless and with his pants unbuttoned, just barely covering anything sensitive. References to many kinds of sexual acts, as well as to pornography. "Felching" is mentioned but not explained.


Strong language includes "f--k," "s--te," "a--hole," "c--t," "prick," "ass," "d--k," "piss," "hell," and "bastard."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters frequently gather and drink at the local pub. The main character mentions that he struggles with alcoholic tendencies. In one scene, he falls off the wagon and drinks a great deal at the bar. When the bar tries to close, he tries to order one more drink, which leads to an argument. A secondary character is frequently seen drinking and sloppily drunk. Characters snort cocaine in a bar bathroom. Two characters casually share some pot. Characters occasionally smoke cigarettes in a background way. There's a joke about an altar boy stealing ceremonial wine. Mentions of LSD and crystal meth.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Calvary is a thoughtful drama about an Irish priest. It has lots of mature content, including shooting and blood, a dead dog, and suggested violence against women and children. No real sex is shown, but there's strong innuendo throughout, and one female character is said to be openly having an affair. A male character is shown with his pants unbuttoned, only barely covering sensitive parts, and there's a reference to transsexual pornography. A character urinates on a painting (no body parts shown). Language is also strong throughout, including "f--k," "s--t," and "c--t." The main character struggles with alcohol and is seen drinking excessively and getting violently drunk in one scene. Other characters are shown briefly snorting cocaine, smoking pot, and smoking cigarettes. Other types of drugs are mentioned. Despite the strong material, Calvary is extremely well-made and acted, and it tackles some very interesting, thought-provoking ideas, including forgiveness.

What's the story?

In a small Irish seaside town, Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) hears a Sunday confession. A man tells him that, as a child, he was raped by a priest -- and he now intends to kill the innocent Father Lavelle in one week's time. Father Lavelle goes about his week, trying to help his flock, having deep discussions, but often leaving things frustratingly unresolved. A beautiful young wife loses her husband in an accident, and he reads the Last Rites. His grown daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly), fresh from a suicide attempt, visits for a few days, and they discuss their troubled past. Someone burns down the church. Finally, Sunday comes, and Father Lavelle heads to a pre-arranged meeting place on the beach. Can he save the troubled man's soul?

Is it any good?


Director John Michael McDonagh's previous film, The Guard, was great fun, but CALVARY -- which reunites McDonagh (brother of playwright/filmmaker Martin McDonagh) with his Guard star, Gleeson, and cinematographer, Larry Smith -- is something a bit more. It's a beautifully composed film centering on a great performance.

The movie doesn't generate much suspense from its a simple "countdown" motif. Instead, it's mainly focused on conversations, which are so brilliantly written and so ambiguous that they manage to convey many complex, overlapping ideas. And the cinematography supports the images with nuanced use of space, temperature, and character composition; it's a very visual film, as well as a verbose one. The final, hopeful moments show the entire cast of characters; Father Lavelle has failed to reach many of them, but he did in fact get to a few, touching their hearts. The ambiguous ending is worth discussing.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Calvary's violence. What's shown and not shown? How do these decisions affect the story? How many characters are shown with guns, and how are they used?

  • What kind of sexual references did you notice in the movie? What are the characters' attitudes toward sex? What role does it play in the story?

  • What are the characters' attitudes toward drinking? Are there realistic consequences when characters drink/get drunk/use other substances?

  • What are some of the ideas that Father Lavelle successfully discusses with others? What was the content of some of his "failed" conversations?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 1, 2014
DVD release date:December 9, 2014
Cast:Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Chris O'Dowd
Director:John Michael McDonagh
Studio:Fox Searchlight
Run time:100 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 17 years old Written byB-KMastah September 5, 2014

A bleak and fascinating look at human sympathy and forgiveness.

Billing this as a black comedy almost does this film a disservice. Sure, there is dark humor laced here and there, but it's very brisk and never really dwelled on, and that helps this be one of the bleakest movies of the year, striking a chord almost like The Rover did earlier this year. The film is successful as a whodunnit, but that isn't its main focus. As we see these townspeople and their lives, the attention isn't on whether or not we suspect them of conspiracy to commit murder, but we instead peek into their character and ask ourselves how much we could forgive each and every one of them, almost out of empathetic pity. The film's message is brave - more or less that forgiveness could be called overrated - but very true, whether you want to admit it or not. Its tone and nearly-fully-overcast color palette compliment this as well. Brendan Gleeson is terrific, and witnessing his sort of (de)evolution as this character is almost magical in an odd way, given how effortlessly he slips into character. You forget that you're watching someone act, and that's something I almost never say. I could see myself thinking about this movie longer than I would most others. It has the ingredients of being a slow-burn film: the sense of relaxation you get watching it just because it feels like watching life unfold, the landscapes and colors, and the fact that I'm getting more out of this movie by writing about it after seeing it. 8.7/10, great, two thumbs up, far above average, etc.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 10 year old Written byNcarb January 2, 2015

thought provoking and beautiful, a grown up piece of cinema.

Brendan Gleeson is on stunning form in the story of a good priest who is told, in the confessional, that he's going to be murdered in 7 days. the clock starts ticking and Gleeson tries to figure out who the murderer is, whether to run or stay, and most importantly whether going to meet the murderer in the appointed place, to attempt to talk him out of committing a mortal sin, is sacrifice or suicide. the parishioners around Gleeson, behaving dreadfully, include Chris O'Dowd and Aiden Gillen. Gillen has a speech which stays in the mind long after the film has ended, but a prison scene with Gleeson acting opposite his real life son, steals the movie. the fact that the film grapples with some key questions of faith including Jesus sacrifice v Jesus suicide, and the accountability of the church in cases of sexual abuse, is what makes it a film for older teens; the nuanced questions it raises are maybe just too complicated for younger/mid teens. unapologetically smart, and quietly beautiful. a challenging and thought provoking film which offers no easy answer to difficult questions.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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