The Journey isn’t a “bad” film. Neither is it particularly good.
The film tells the kinda-sorta true story of avowed-political-enemies-turned-best-of-friends Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) and serves as a showcase for its two leads. Spall in particular makes a real display of capital-A Acting here.
The year is 2006 and Ireland is in the middle of a brutal civil war of sorts. Never having previously come into contact with one another in person, political nemeses Paisley (the anti-catholic Democratic Unionist Leader) and McGuinness (an Irish Republican and alleged former head of the IRA) end up, through much contrivance on the part of British intelligence – who hope to bend the two Irish politicians into some sort of peace agreement – having to travel together from Britain to Northern Ireland. The Journey chronicles screenwriter Colin Bateman’s imagined version of their trip together.
Much of the film, therefore, takes place within the confines of a car, bringing to mind a much better film, 2013’s Locke. The Journey’s director, Nick Hamm, is fairly adept at using this small space in aesthetically interesting ways – in fact, the direction overall is fairly impressive. A moment early in the film comes to mind, when Paisley and McGuinness lay eyes on each other for the first time. Hamm gets the import of this meeting across purely visually, without a single word of dialogue. HIs visual flourishes are the high points of The Journey.
Unknowingly being spied on by British intelligence via candid camera, the two politicians make awkward conversation on the road for a while until, eventually, both begin to open up and express vulnerability. The story unfolds from there pretty much as you’d expect based on the premise.
And it makes for some very entertaining viewing. I’d never discourage anyone from watching The Journey. Spall’s performance as Paisley is big and hammy and incredibly watchable, if not particularly good. Meaney’s McGuinness makes a good foil for Spall’s much broader character.
All that said, The Journey doesn’t add up to all that much; it’s aggressively saccharine and lacks any real examination of the very important ideological disagreements between the two men at its center. The way its dialogue is written feels stageplayish, and made me curious about the prospects of a theatrically staged production of The Journey. Likely it’d work better than it does as a film.