The talk that ended North­ern Ire­land’s woes

The Denver Post - - LIFE&CULTURE - By Stephanie Merry Ai­dan Mon­aghan, IFC Films

★★55 Drama. Rated PG-13. 95 min­utes.

“The Jour­ney” of­fers a highly spec­u­la­tive ver­sion of the con­ver­sa­tion that put an end to the con­flict in North­ern Ire­land that has come to be known as the Trou­bles.

This much is known: In 2006, the Rev. Ian Pais­ley, the con­ser­va­tive head of the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party in North­ern Ire­land, and his long­time neme­sis Martin McGuin­ness, a one­time leader of the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army turned left-wing politi­cian, met in Scot­land, giv­ing the world hope that decades of vi­o­lence would soon be over. Pais­ley, how­ever, had to de­part early to get back to Ire­land to cel­e­brate his 50th wed­ding an­niver­sary. McGuin­ness rode along on the pri­vate plane — a cus­tom with op­pos­ing party lead­ers at the time to en­sure the safety of both.

What is un­known is what these mor­tal en­e­mies talked about dur­ing that trip. We’ll never be cer­tain, be­cause both men have since died. But screen­writer Colin Bate­man has some ideas, none of which are es­pe­cially riv­et­ing.

At least the cast­ing is. Ti­mothy Spall plays Pais­ley, the sanc­ti­mo­nious Protes­tant cler­gy­man who once called the pope the An­tichrist, with Colm Meaney tak­ing the role of McGuin­ness, here played as a droll wiseguy who re­fuses to apol­o­gize for the vi­o­lence he has in­cited. The vet­eran ac­tors do what they can with these one-note char­ac­ters, in what amounts to an “Odd Cou­ple” setup, spout­ing di­a­logue that’s repet­i­tive and overly ex­plana­tory.

Di­rec­tor Nick Hamm shifts the ac­tion from a plane to a car on the way to the air­port, with a Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence agent (the late John Hurt) watch­ing re­motely via hid­den cam­era and pulling strings in the hope of in­spir­ing the men to start talk­ing. It won’t be easy, con­sid­er­ing that Pais­ley is ini­tially set on giv­ing the silent treat­ment to the chat­tier McGuin­ness. But the agent car­ries on, whis­per­ing prompts through the ear­piece of the car’s driver (Fred­die High­more), while also giv­ing the young chauf­feur an ex­haus­tive his­tory of Ir­ish sec­tar­i­an­ism.

Con­sid­er­ing what’s at stake, the tire­some banter — once it fi­nally gets go­ing — drains all sus­pense from the pro­ceed­ings, de­spite a mu­si­cal score that sounds like it was lifted from an es­pi­onage thriller. Here are two men who hold the fate of a na­tion in their hands, and yet there’s no real drama. Ev­ery el­e­ment of the movie feels fab­ri­cated, from the stilted con­ver­sa­tion to the all-too-con­ve­nient ob­sta­cles the movie keeps throw­ing in the path of progress, in­clud­ing a flat tire, an empty gas tank and an im­plau­si­ble de­tour to a church.

Still, “The Jour­ney”

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That’s an in­spir­ing thought. But in a movie this forced, in­spi­ra­tion is just as un­likely to oc­cur as ev­ery­thing else.

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