A former priest’s angry rant against God triggers Divine retribution

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | June 9, 2022

The Righteous
Roxy & VOD (June 24)
3 out of 5

First-time features by Canadian filmmakers can be divided in two categories: coming-of-age dramedies set in cottage country, and freak experimental ventures. The second batch is by far the most interesting, but are generally high-wire acts likely to be brought down by the weight of their ambition.

You may remember Mark O’Brien as the ineffectual husband in Ready or Not, or as Scarlett Johansson’s post-divorce squeeze in Marriage Story, or one of the hundred other things he’s been in since the mid-aughts. For his feature directorial debut, he has chosen a remarkably philosophical theme to explore: crime, guilt and punishment, Catholic style.

In stark monochrome, The Righteous tells the story of Frederic (Henry Czerny, who has the perfect creased face for black-and-white), a former priest who has just lost his adopted daughter. In an angry rant against God, he challenges Him to explain this tragedy.

Shortly after, a young man with a broken foot (O’Brien) lands on his porch. Reluctantly, Frederic invites him in until his injury heals. His misgivings are somewhat justified: the stranger can’t provide basic info about himself, his responses are vague, and he has a knack for asking loaded questions.

The Righteous isn’t shy about digging into the equivalency between sin and punishment. In fact, the movie gives the viewer no breaks. O’Brien, who also wrote the script, has clearly put a lot of thought into the subject and delivers a nice punchline that Catholics may enjoy a notch more than “heathens” (think Breaking the Waves minus the budget).

While the acting is top notch — Czerny is in fine form, supported by O’Brien and veteran Canadian actor Mimi Kuzyk — and the dialogue crackles, The Righteous is a very dour affair. Either you settle into the pew or you don’t, but the movie isn’t going to make it comfortable.