The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Journey

The Journey is an engaging fictional take on a real event. Set against the backdrop of the Irish “Troubles,” the story involves two mortal enemies. One of them is Ian Paisley, the deeply conservative firebrand minister and unionist leader who held intense anti-Catholic views. The other is Martin McGuinness, the former Irish Republican Army chief of staff. In 2006, these men, who had never personally interacted, attended a peace treaty in Scotland. Fate conspired to put them in the same car for a brief road trip. What specifically happened in that automobile remains unknown, but it allowed them to seal the deal, changing Northern Ireland for the better. The film speculates on what might have occurred.

Timothy Spall plays the elderly Paisley, a no-nonsense guy who needs to depart the peace talks early in order to get back home for his 50th wedding anniversary celebration. McGuinness (Colm Meaney) insists on accompanying him back to Ireland as a safety precaution. (Travelling together would reduce the likelihood of one of their sides attacking the leader of the other.) When inclement weather shuts down the airport, the men have no other option but to share a car. A high-ranking MI5 official (John Hurt) has planted a driver, Jack (Freddie Highmore), inside the vehicle to ensure the two leaders speak. They certainly do.

If you're going to have a movie that's basically ninety minutes of two people talking, you'd better have great actors and sharp dialogue. My Dinner with Andre and Before Sunrise are examples of how powerful the approach can be. So is The Journey.

Spall is magnetic as Paisley, playing him as a larger-than-life guy – the sort of person who radiates such intensity that he raises the temperature in any room he enters. More importantly, he brings a sense of moral superiority. Paisley, as presented here, firmly believes he holds the high ground over his enemy, which makes him reluctant to concede even the smallest point. Meaney, on the other hand, gives McGuinness a certain world-weariness. He's ready to make peace, although that doesn't mean he's willing to let go of any of his ideals. The actor conveys how McGuinness attempts to stand firm on his principals while still showing a desire to meet Paisley across the aisle, knowing that many of their individual followers may resent it.

The dialogue between the characters crackles. Each knows what the other thinks of him. That becomes an important bargaining chip. Initially, McGuinness tries to warm up to Paisley by asking him about his marriage, or chatting about actor Samuel L. Jackson. When that doesn't work, he makes a few self-effacing jokes. Paisley, meanwhile, suspects his enemy is searching for a weakness, which causes him to be judicious in what he says. The two play a game of mental chess, challenging one another's words, as well as the implications of the things they have done. The Journey does an excellent job of helping the viewer understand both sides of the conflict and how neither one was free of guilt.

At times, Colin Bateman's screenplay feels a slight bit contrived – a flat tire and several other complications conspire to get the men sparring. There's also little doubt that a very complex situation is (perhaps understandably) simplified for ease of storytelling. Nonetheless, the script gets things right where it counts, as in a powerful scene where McGuinness talks about the personal revelation that made him decide to seek peace, and Paisley slams him for putting his own drama above the many deaths that have come out of the Troubles. Director Nick Hamm ensures the pace is tight throughout, getting maximum mileage from the contentious conversations.

With that kind of interplay -- and magnificently accomplished performances from Spall and Meaney -- The Journey proves to be a riveting and even inspiring look at two prominent adversaries who came together to do what was right.

( out of four)

The Journey is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent images and language. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

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