Irish Catholic priest Brendan Gleeson is told by a mystery man during Confession that he is going to be killed in precisely one week. His would-be assassin explains that his death is revenge for abuse as a child... and it would be far better to murder a "good priest". For the next seven days he is forced to soak up vicious abuse from his parishioners, including supercilious squire Dylan Moran and wife-beating butcher Chris O'Dowd, as his appointment with fate looms. Director John Michael McDonagh follows the superlative The Guard with a harder, bleaker tale that still manages to pack a comedic punch.
John Michael McDonagh
Isaach de Bankolé
Imagine a bitter game of Cluedo unfolding against the backdrop of the Catholic sex abuse scandal, the collapse of the Dublin tiger economy, and casual adultery and coke-snorting in rural Ireland.
This is the gamey flavour of director John Michael McDonagh's follow up to the The Guard, with Brendan Gleeson again getting top billing, this time as a humane country priest with a past.
He's got a week to "get his house in order" after a man abused by a priest as a child informs him during confession that he's got just seven days to live.
Father James has got a rough idea who his wannabe killer might be but there's no shortage of suspects - impotently raging against the Church - living in the seaside Sligo village beneath brooding mountains.
Dylan Moran's sottish former banker has been deserted by his wife and children and knows the value of nothing but the cost of everything. Chris O'Dowd's butcher may have beaten up his sluttish wife who's constantly copping off with Isaach De Bankole's hunky, black car mechanic.
The local pub landlord is riven with cynicism as the bank forecloses on him and Aiden Gillen's fanatically atheist hospital doctor revels in hurling unpalatable religious dichotomies Father James' way while seducing widows.
The only light on the horizon is the arrival of the Father's pretty daughter (Kelly Reilly)....but she's dutifully come to visit her widowed dad while recuperating from a suicide bid.
Yes, it's the sort of village even the Samaritans might give a wide berth and someone in has got it in for Father James, making their intentions plain by torching his wooden church.
McDonagh turns the heat up on this dysfunctional community to almost dramatically unbearable levels as each parishioner vents his or her spleen on the priest, universally regarded as a symbol of an entity that has no claim on anybody's morality.
Yet he is a good one - selected as the killer's intended victim for this newsworthy reason - and is just as fallible as anyone else although constantly attempting to rebuff the personal attacks on his faith.
Gleeson is sensational, imbuing Father James with a delicate vulnerability yet gruffly standing his ground and reconnecting with his daughter who he let down in the past by finding God after his wife died rather than playing the good father.
It could descend into maudlin self-pity but McDonagh's story - with comedy turns from a fast-talking rent boy and Moran on splendid form as the boorish banker - stays just the right side of the line.