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not even gleeson's genius can SAVE CLUTTERED CALVARY

Drama. Starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Pat Shortt, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, M Emmet Walsh, Domhnall Gleeson, Orla O'Rourke, David McSavage. Director: John Michael McDonagh. Cert 15A

Opening a movie with the line, "I first tasted semen when I was seven years old" is certainly one way of grabbing an audience's attention, and John Michael McDonagh's follow-up to The Guard does a marvellous job in setting up an intriguing scenario.

That line comes in a confession box as Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is told by an unseen confessant how he was abused as a child and, by way of revenge on the church, intends to kill the priest the following Sunday.

Not that the would-be killer is holding James responsible for what happened, but for his own reasons he reckons that killing a bad priest would prove nothing, whereas killing a good priest would really cause a stir. With those plot parameters established quickly and skillfully, we embark on a murder mystery in reverse, not a whodunnit but a "who's gonna do it".

Gleeson is more than capable of carrying such a weighty role as a man with a past – he was married before becoming a priest, has a suicidal daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly) and a previous drinking problem – but as the film progresses it becomes apparent that McDonagh's script is overly ambitious (nothing criminally wrong there) and wildly overwritten, which is where problems arise.

Set amid some beautiful scenery in Co Sligo – kudos to cinematographer Larry Smith for a great job – Calvary flounders by straying from its fascinating set-up and into that dreaded territory where a writer is "saying something profound about the Ireland of today".

Granted, things here aren't as ridiculous as in the risible The Tiger's Tail, which also featured a leading role for Gleeson, but as too many characters are introduced it becomes apparent they're not fleshed-out characters but cyphers and, occasionally, grotesques who represent aspects of contemporary Irish life.

Thus we have Dylan Moran's sneering financier living it up in the Big House with no remorse for the havoc his class wreaked, Pat Shortt's angry publican as one who's facing ruin as a result of the former's actions, Chris O'Dowd's cynical butcher personifying the "ah sure, what do you expect?" stoicism of the everyman and Aidan Gillen's sinister pathologist standing for God knows what.

And there are more, with McDonagh lobbing in a jailed cannibal killer, a rent boy who does James Cagney impressions, a gay garda, a promiscuous wife, a possibly psychotic young man who wants to join the army to kill people and an elderly American writer. Oh, and David McSavage turns up as a bishop.

Trying to keep track of who's who is a task, and matters aren't helped by the dialogue, none of which sounds like conversations people would ever have.

In one between James and his daughter there's even a reference to, "Those shite plays in the Abbey Theatre where everything falls apart in the third act", a too-knowing way of teeing up for the fact things in Calvary fall apart in the third act.

Gleeson is terrific, but anyone expecting a cheery night out after the success of The Guard is in for a big let down. HHHII

THE RAID 2

Thriller. Starring Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oko Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Cok Simbara, Alex Abbad. Director: Gareth Huw Evans. Cert 18

The Raid from 2011 was, without doubt, the best action movie in more than a decade; a simple plot about a drug bust gone wrong led to a startling martial arts actioner set in Jakarta and directed, unbelievably, by a Welshman who didn't actually speak a word of Indonesian.

The inevitable sequel, therefore, has a very high bar to reach, and while Gareth Huw Evans doesn't quite hit the heights of his debut, he's still delivered a very impressive follow-up.

Set in the immediate aftermath of the first film, a bloodied Rama (Iko Uwais) is taken to a secret location by his cop bosses and given a top secret mission: to go to prison and gain the trust of mob boss's son Uco (Arifin Putra) with a view to infiltrating the upper echelons of the gang on his release.

In fairness, there are elements of Infernal Affairs and White Heat in the first half of the film, but by halfway through I'd pretty much forgotten about who was double-crossing whom and merely wanted another opportunity to see the electric Uwais in action.

The choreographed violence here is astonishing. Arguably more impressive than the first film, set-pieces include a fantastic car chase, a muddy prison yard riot that must have taken months to plan and several fights that take the breath away.

Not as relentless as The Raid, the film is wildly entertaining nonetheless, as you'd expect from an enterprise which has credited characters called Machete Man and Hammer Girl. HHHHI

THE LUNCHBOX

Drama. Starring Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Nakul Vaid. Director: Ritesh Batra. Cert PG

Films whose central premise revolves around coincidences should generally be approached with extreme caution, but I'm prepared to make an exception for The Lunchbox, an utterly charming and beguiling movie from debutant director Ritesh Batra.

Set in Mumbai, the film involves soon-to-retired claims officer Saajan (the great Irrfan Khan), a widower who's surprised one day when his regular lunchbox doesn't arrive at his desk (a one-in-eight-million chance, by the way). Instead, he's enchanted by the food cooked by Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a young wife in an unhappy marriage.

Soon the pair begin passing letters back and forth via lunchbox and their back stories emerge, all the while Ila becoming increasingly suspicious of her workaholic husband and Saajan having to train his replacement, Shaik (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), an eager-to-please recruit who's driving him absolutely bonkers.

It's a relatively straightforward story, but given great depth and humanity by the performances, Iffran Khan in particular having an astonishing ability to convey a world of emotion with the simplest facial movement. A lovely, lovely film. HHHHI

Also out this week: Half of a Yellow Sun (Cert 15A) strains for epic status, but is so constrained by budgetary concerns that it resembles a hastily edited TV mini-series.

Set against the backdrop of Nigerian independence and the subsequent civil war in the early 1960s, there are strong performances from Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, but, unfortunately, the movie feels too rushed overall. HHHII


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