Mark Reviews Movies

The Journey (2017)


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Nick Hamm

Cast: Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Freddie Highmore, John Hurt, Toby Stephens, Ian McElhinney, Ian Beattie, Barry Ward, Kristy Robinson, Mark Lambert

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including violent images and language)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 6/16/17 (limited); 7/7/17 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 6, 2017

There's always some suspicion when a movie informs the audience that it "imagines" what could have happened during an event of historic importance. The questions flood. What was changed? What was actually said? How much of this is founded on reality? Helpfully, The Journey, which imagines the first meeting between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness as the two men are preparing to negotiate a peace in Northern Ireland, answers all of those questions for us throughout the course of the movie. It's bunk.

We can gather this by the way the entirety of the story and the characterizations of these two men come across as fake. Historians will have a field day in picking apart the movie, although they could probably call it a day with the setup of how these two men first get to talking. Even if we can accept, as an act of dramatic license, the contrived circumstances of how it gets Paisley, the Protestant loyalist to the United Kingdom, and McGuinness, a former leader within the IRA and a current leader of its political branch Sinn Féin, to talk for an extended period of time, that still doesn't excuse the convoluted ways Colin Bateman's screenplay keeps the conversation going, forces conflict within a story that should be about reconciliation, and turns the event into a semantic roundabout, in which no one seems to care about even looking for an exit.

We could accept much of this, in fact, if the movie led to a thoughtful or even just engaging dialogue between these controversial figures. It doesn't, and Bateman basically repeats the same points over and over again, occasionally tossing in some historical context to the political divide between these characters. Those details simply become a means of the men, once again, getting into a disagreement about their differences—the same disagreement that we've already heard explained previously.

Paisley is played by Timothy Spall, in a performance that comes across as broad caricature, simply because there's so little the character. Colm Meaney plays McGuinness in a far subtler performance that still doesn't ring as accurate. It might be because, within a few minutes of actually speaking to his political enemy, he begins—while trying to build a bridge between them, mind you—to joke about killing and bombs. The jokes go over about as well as one might expect.

They're together in Scotland in 2006 as part of a discussion to broker peace and a united government in Northern Ireland that is, without question, part of the United Kingdom. The talks are set to begin, but Paisley is scheduled to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. A storm is approaching, and if he wants to make it in time, he will need to leave before the talks can begin. McGuinness, citing a previous agreement between the warring factions, insists on joining his rival on the trip.

The tension between the men is immediate and sustained for pretty much the whole of the story, a dramatic decision that provides conflict. It also, from the start, makes us wonder why these men, who hate each other and each other's political ideology so fervently, would even agree to enter into any negotiation. Bateman isn't condensing a political negotiation. He's condensing three decades of the Troubles and ignoring the time of negotiations that follow, and the screenplay does it simply to engender more conflict.

The only hint that something might come about between these two is back in St. Andrews, where the talks have paused for Paisley and McGuinness' impromptu cross-country trip. There, Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens), who does his own bit of run-around talking in order to take both sides while taking neither at all, and Harry Patterson (the late John Hurt), an MI5 man, are keeping eyes and ears on the two politicians in the car with a hidden camera, as well as a driver (played by Freddie Highmore) who's a government plant, trying to get the two men to talk. The scenes there, though, amount to little more than occasionally reminding the audience that the story we're watching is important.

In between the spurts of adversarial dialogue, the movie manufactures a series of problems for the trip—an accident involving a deer, an empty gas tank, a credit card issue, a medical episode. These external conflicts are transparently manipulative in the way they try to complicate a story that is already complicated enough because of the characterizations (It also adds a ticking clock to the third act, lest Paisley miss his flight). The Journey clearly has little concern for history. It comes across as pure fiction, which could be fine, if only it had been convincing fiction.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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