J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Pilgrimage: Transporting The Rock

It wasn’t that long ago that the Irish saved civilization, but by 1209 they are apparently ready to go all in with the barbarians. Christianity has consolidated its hold on Europe, so woe unto those who are not down with Rome’s program. In this case, the Pope has decreed a relic held by a remote Irish monastery should be moved to the Vatican. The Brothers know this is a mistake, but they still faithfully comply.  A ragtag group of the faithful and the zealous will embark on a violent road trip in Brendan Muldowney’s The Pilgrimage (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Supposedly, The Rock of St. Matthias martyred the apostle who filled Judas’s vacancy, but it caused the hurler to immolate immediately thereafter. Since then, anyone of insufficient virtue who touches it, meets a similar fate. It might not look like much, but The Rock sure would be handy to have on a crusade.

Frankly, Brother Geraldus the Cistercian is more of an inquisition guy than a crusader, but he has embraced his assignment from the Pope with typical fervor. In exchange for safe passage, Geraldus has promised the aging Baron De Merville absolution, but his rebellious heir, Raymond De Merville has cut his own deal with the king. However, he did not bargain on the fierce fighting prowess of The Mute, a lay penitent, who has taken a vow of silence. The Mute is more concerned with protecting the young novice Brother Diarmuid than The Rock, but he is certainly no stranger to killing.

There are a few decent scenes of hack-and-slash action in Pilgrimage, but Heaven help us Brother, is it ever didactic. Geraldus is such a prissy, preening, unsubtly vile anti-Catholic caricature, he makes it difficult to get past his polemical howlers. At one point, when recalling how he killed his own father on the rack for so-called heresy, Geraldus hisses: “the problem wasn’t that he lost his faith in the Church, he’d lost his fear of it.” Ooooh, how cold.

If Muldowney had read a little Thomas Cahill and laid off the polemics, Pilgrimage could have been an agreeably muddy and gritty action historical. Cinematographer Tom Comerford makes it all look appropriately dark and dank. Most importantly, Jon Bernthal has the chops and the presence for the silently glowering Mute. On the other hand, Stanley Weber is a horror show of villainous tics and clichés as the mustache-twisting Geraldus. Tom Holland, the new Spiderman nobody asked for, is a vanilla wallflower non-entity as Diarmuid. However, John Lynch lends the film more dignity and gravitas than it deserves as the noble Brother Ciarán.

After watching Pilgrimage you will feel like you were hit over the head with a giant mace, just like De Merville’s foes. This is definitely a case where less could have been more. Not recommended, The Pilgrimage opens today (8/11) in New York, at the Village East.

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