The Journey – Film Review – 2017
In The Journey, the new character drama from director Nick Hamm, two mortal enemies find themselves sharing a ride to the airport in the midst of peace talks between their two factions. The minders and handlers have been left behind, giving the two men the rare opportunity to speak freely away from the scrutiny of the media and their own entourages.
Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) is a Presbyterian minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Ireland. Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) is the leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. Paisley considers McGuinness to be nothing short of a terrorist, and McGuinness views Paisley as a pro-government oppressor hell-bent on trampling on the rights of the working class.
We know from the outset of the film (and from history in general) that these two men set aside their hatred for one another and brokered a peace agreement in 2007 that put an end to decades of “The Troubles” in Ireland. That peace lasts to this day. How did they manage to reach such a historic resolution? The Journey (while based on fact) is a purely speculative look at how that private encounter might have unfolded. And, thanks to the powerhouse performances from its two leads, it’s an engrossing ride for the audience as well.
The film explores rich thematic ground, showing how youthful fire and passion can give way to wisdom and contemplation. These two men no longer worry about “winning” and are instead focused on their respective legacies. What have they done to further their causes? Can they live with the damage that resulted from those decisions? Trusting an enemy is the ultimate act of faith, but without that trust, peace can never be achieved.
As with many films based on real events, The Journey can be a little too neat at times, too on-the-nose. At one point when their airport limousine breaks down, the two men find themselves walking through a cemetery, literally treading on the dead much like they have throughout their violent conflicts over the years. The men wander across an abandoned church, allowing Paisley to stand in a dilapidated pulpit, looking at stained glass images of famous martyrs while contemplating the future. At times such heavy-handedness undermines the narrative, but those moments are thankfully brief and few.
The Journey feels like a stage play and as such it relies primarily on the impact of its performances. The cinematography and editing are unobtrusive. It’s the human conflict, not the more kinetic aspects of film-making, that drive the narrative. With Meaney and Spall sharing the screen, The Journey proves to be a tight, 95-minute character drama that packs more of a punch than you expect it to.
The Journey opens at Landmark Theatre locations across the country on Friday, July 7, 2017.