FRIDAY REVIEW: Two Priests and the Sundance Kid

A few pop culture considerations to end your week. 



It’s rare to find a Hollywood film that demonstrates any kind of biblical or ecclesiastical literacy. Even more rare to find that literacy combined with a deep understanding of human nature. And rarer still to find that combination told with honesty. Calvary achieves all of the above. It’s the story of a priest in a small Irish town who is threatened with murder by a member of his parish who was sexually abused as a child by another priest. Brendan Gleeson plays the good priest who must remain faithful to his vocation, to his parish, and to the sacred confidentiality of the confessional. I don’t remember the last time I saw a film that portrays a priest as a Christ figure (with the possible exception of Les Miserables, which, coincidentally is mentioned below.) It was a refreshing change.

Calvary has been on my watch list since a coworker mentioned it more than a year ago. I wish I had gotten to it sooner. John Michael McDonagh’s script invites us to consider not just the nature of redemption, but the nature of ministry to broken, complicated, obliquely repentant people. Which is every minister’s job.


Les Mis

Les Miserables is my wife’s favorite story of all time. She read the novel twice. We’ve seen the musical multiple times, so when some friends invited us to see their kids star in a children’s theater production of Les Miserables School Edition, we bit. It was a good show. The innkeepers were funny, Eponine was tragic, and the cafe boys were cleared-eyed and handsome. And that may be all you need to carry off Les Mis.

But it was a different experience seeing kids do this show, those bright young faces belting out lines about deepest longing and darkest conflict. I found myself simultaneously lamenting and celebrating the world we inhabit, where some of those kids will undoubtedly grow up to experience those same emotions off-stage. And that, I think, is the point.


Aaron Sorkin and the Sundance Kid

I’m taking a screenwriting class.

I am not a screenwriter. Many years ago, I wrote scripts for a dozen TV spots at an ad agency. Citizen Kane it was not, and I haven’t gotten any closer in the years since. But great writing is great writing, whether for screen or page, and I’m always looking for ways to improve my craft. I have often admired the writing genius of Aaron Sorkin, so when the ads in my news feed started telling me about his Master Class, it was a pretty easy sell.

The class is going to keep me busy reading and watching examples of great writing. I’ve only completed the first three units of the class, and I’ve already been assigned two movies to watch: The American President, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I watched the western this week. It was a fun ride. Paul Newman and Robert Redford were impossibly cool. But I didn’t love the story. As best I could tell, their heroic ambition was to commit robbery. And the characters didn’t learn or change much as they chased that ambition across two continents. I’m planning to watch The American President with Christine this weekend. We’ll see if Michael Douglas and Annette Bening do more for me.