Thursday, June 15, 2017

In Nick Hamm and Colin Bateman's fine docu-drama, THE JOURNEY, imagination fills the bill

The pre-credit information we read as THE JOURNEY begins tells of the 40 years of conflict in Northern Ireland, the thousands of deaths (and-who-knows-how many-more-wounded) that was known collectively as "the troubles." In 2006 two leading players in this conflict -- Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness -- met in Scotland to try to work out some kind of final, lasting peace. When the pre-title information then tells us that the film we are about to see "imagines" this journey of the two men, red flags immediately went up in TrustMovies' mind.

They needn't have. As it turns out, this terrifically conceived and executed movie -- written by Colin Bateman and directed by Nick Hamm (the latter is shown at right) -- is a fine example of how imagination, when rendered this well, can produce a richly layered look into an event in which the "facts" may be unknown but the spirit of the event, as well as its outcome, is captured believably and thoughtfully. In the process, we are made to see and understand things from both points of view, while being forced to mull over what that past history -- much of it damaging and awful -- has encompassed. Oh, yes: I should also tell you that the film is often surprisingly funny, unexpectedly moving and vastly entertaining, too.

If we see better ensemble acting this year, not to mention the film's two remarkable leading performances, I shall be very surprised. Paisley, in all his gruff, self-righteous anger, is played by a somewhat trimmed-down Timothy Spall, above, who is as splendid as always. Weight loss does not seem to have diminished his amazing abilities. In the role of McGuinness, I would says that the under-sung actor Colm Meaney (above, right, and below, left) gives the performance of his life -- except that he always does this. He brings such feeling and intelligence, with so much subtlety, to the proceedings, that he all but steals the show. Granted, it is his character with whom we most identify. And yet these two men make such fine foils for each other that they both keep the audience constantly on its toes.

The third actor who figures cleverly into things is Freddie Highmore, (above, right), playing the delightfully naive driver of the car that takes our two men on their most important journey. Highmore discovers so much fun and wit in this role, in which our driver proves to have a surprise up his sleeve (and others over his ears and under his belt), that it took me half the movie before I realized I was watching the actor who has incarnated so well our modern-day Norman Bates.

That ensemble mentioned earlier includes the likes of Toby Stephens, playing a concerned but not especially competent Tony Blair; the late John Hurt, simply grand as one of Blair's uber-competent enablers; Ian Beattie (below, and practically the spitting image of Gerry Adams); and Catherine McCormack as the lone woman among the backroom bunch.

How all this plays out, and how the powers-that-be try to control the journey itself makes for suspense, surprise and a good deal of humor. But it is finally the two main men, who they are, what they stand for, and how they reach their destination that makes this movie so riveting and important.

There was a time, decades ago, that I believed the situation in Northern Ireland was an impossible one. Well, no. Perhaps, the same will be true someday of the situation in Israel. Except, of course, for the concurrent ones regarding America's ever-increasing plutocracy and appalling non-leadership, and the little being done to alleviate climate change.

From IFC Films and running a just-right 95 minutes, The Journey opens tomorrow, Friday, June 16, in New York City at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema. On Friday, June 23, it will hit Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5. Elsewhere? Sure hope so, but as it's from IFC, we'll certainly see DVD and streaming opportunities semi-soon.

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