REVIEW: “Pilgrimage” (2017)

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For those few folks needing more proof (assuming they still exist) that big budgets aren’t essential to good moviemaking, I present to you Brendan Muldowney’s “Pilgrimage”, a beautiful and propulsive medieval thriller anchored in 13th century European complexity and brutality. With a meager budget of just over $5 million, “Pilgrimage” looks and plays out better than many of its higher-priced counterparts.

The movie’s Crusade-era setting is an intriguing place in itself – a land filled with volatility and hostility. Just on the outskirts of the many conflicts we meet a small group of monks living on the western coast of Ireland. They are approached by Brother Geraldus (Stanley Weber), sent at the behest of the Pope to retrieve and escort back to Rome an ancient holy relic being guarded by the monks. This quest (subtly reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s “The Fellowship of the Ring”) becomes the centerpiece for Muldowney’s movie.

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Four of the Irish monks are sent to escort Geraldus. Among those chosen is Brother Diarmuid (Tom Holland), a young novice who has never known life outside the monastery, the wise elder Brother Ciaran (John Lynch), and a mute (Jon Bernthal) who has faithfully served the monastery since mysteriously washing ashore a few years prior.

The group’s cross-country venture takes them through lands filled with factions hungry for control. They encounter one such faction led by Sir Raymond (Richard Armitage) a soldier and a loyalist to his king. At the urging of his father, Raymond and his men agree to escort the brothers and the relic across the treacherous island. What follows is an arduous and sometimes brutal pilgrimage that stretches each of these men to their limits.

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“Pilgrimage” is more than a simple “quest movie”. Writer Jamie Hannigan’s story tests each character by fire – in many cases spiritually and in all cases physically. There is a steady examination of both the strength and weakness of faith, whether it be faith in God, faith in Rome, or faith in a king. And it’s fascinating to watch the film explore the contrasts between the natural and the supernatural, divine providence and unmitigated chance, men of the cloth and men of the sword. At times I wished it went deeper, but there was never a time when I wasn’t absorbed.

It isn’t just the historical setting that’s so potent. The way Muldowney and cinematographer Tom Comerford shoot the film is just as puissant. Ominous skies filled with boiling clouds and vast landscapes as beautiful as they are dangerous. And then you have the bursts of violence that gruesomely clash with the monks’ pursuit of piece and piety. They are brutal reflections of the real world outside of the monastery – a revelation of reality young Brother Diarmuid quickly becomes acquainted with.

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And what a stellar cast. This is Holland’s story and he continues to define himself as one of our best young actors. Weber, Armitage and Lynch are all very good. But it’s Jon Bernthal who steals the show. He is mysterious and subdued (he actually took a vow of silence to prepare for the role of a mute). But there is also a blistering ferocity to his performance that that adds yet another layer to his character and the movie.

Made with a small budget and shot in thirty days, “Pilgrimage” sleekly maneuvers through its limitations instead of succumbing to them. One one side it’s a driving medieval action thriller. On the other side is a story that delves into the various shades of faith found within the spiritual (“We are not alone. We are never alone. Have faith”) and the carnal (“Before one can plant new flowers one must cut away the weeds”). I was caught up in it from start to finish and was surprised at how much it gave me to chew on. A second viewing only confirmed my enthusiasm.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4-5-stars

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25 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Pilgrimage” (2017)

  1. You just don’t get it do you? Nobody wants to see these kinds of movie pictures right now! Don’t you thanksgiving ain’t for another three months? I’m not even thinking about Halloween yet, much less them pilgrims and turkeys. But I guess it is the times now because I seen the Christmas stuff already out at Wal Martst.

  2. Wow! Great to finally hear something about this film, and it’s a positive review at that! I’m going to give this a watch thanks to you ASAP. Plus, I’m always game for anything starring Jon Berenthal.

    • Berenthal is great here. It’s such an intriguing film. On the surface it looks pretty simple but there is quite a bit more going on under the surface. Hope you enjoy it.

  3. Great review Keith, looks like it is well worth a watch. It sounded like it had potential. Will check it out when I come across it sometime!

    • That’s great to hear. It needs an audience. I think a lot of people over here have completely missed it. I’m really hoping the word gets out. Obviously I’m a fan.

  4. OMG Keith!! I’m just writing this review when I sauntered over here and I’m thrilled you gave it such a high rating! I don’t know if you remember but I LOVE Stanley Weber (my muse for Hearts Want) and he’s the reason I went to see this on the big screen. Well he AND the film did not disappoint!

    • Oh that’s awesome Ruth! Can’t wait to read your thoughts. Sounds like we are the same page. I was so caught up in it from start to end. And now the mention it I do remember you really liking Weber. He’s really good here. Talk about a complex character.

  5. Pingback: FlixChatter Review: PILGRIMAGE (2017) – FlixChatter Film Blog

  6. Pingback: Pilgrimage double feature: Richard Armitage on the big screen | Me + Richard Armitage

  7. Pingback: REVIEW: “Pilgrimage” (2017) — Keith & the Movies | crystalchandlyre

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