This Crusades drama captures the very worst of 13th century faith, but hints at a very 21st century problem.
You don’t need a director’s statement to tell you what “Pilgrimage” thinks of organized religion.
Or one faith in particular.
The film, set in 1209 AD, takes a withering look at the corrupting influence of the Catholic Church during the Crusades.
It’s an arresting portrait, one that falters in the final moments when both formula and raw disgust collide. “Pilgrimage” also has plenty to say about the scourge of Radical Islam, even if it wasn’t the intended target.
Tom Holland sets aside his Spidey suit to play Brother Diarmuid, an Irish Monk assigned to move a relic to Rome per the Pope’s request. The relic rests in an ornate chest, its powers whispered about by more than just his fellow Monks.
That becomes clear as they start their journey, a trek fraught with dangers like your average Tolkien quest. No, you won’t see dragons or orcs flitting about. These creatures are more savage and stripped from the historical record.
The shy Brother’s faithful companion, a mute (Jon Bernthal), becomes more important as the story progresses. Seems Bernthal’s character once fought in the Crusades, and he knows how to handle a sharp object in a pinch.
A Norman knight (Richard Armitage, “The Hobbit” franchise) offers an additional measure of protection. Will it be enough?
FAST FACT: Tom Holland took two years of ballet before joining the cast of the West End production of “Billy Elliot.”
Director Brendan Muldowney offered up his own creative confession via the film’s press notes. He says he lost the faith that had been instilled in him as a child. Since then, he sought a screenplay that could opine on both organized religion and the “historically corrupt” Roman Catholic Church.
“Pilgrimage” does that … to a point.
Brother Diarmuid is an innocent, and a bit of a blank slate as played by Holland. To be fair, he’s given little to do but look shocked at the inhumanity all around him. That involves bloody sequences that would fit snugly in a “Saw” installment. The film’s opening alone is hardly for the squeamish.
To watch Holland’s character mature before our eyes should be a more profound experience. What’s far more intriguing is processing the duplicity on display. Loyalties are pushed to the breaking point. Characters are not who the initially appear to be.
And in between those revelations we endure some graphic fight sequences that hardly seem holy.
What emerges from this fitfully entertaining tale is both the gritty production values and the resonance with modern times. Muldowney may have the Church in his cross hairs. It’s still chilling to hear holy men talk of bloodshed, death and the need to smite the infidels.
While Holland disappears before our eyes Bernthal captures our attention. Who is he? What is he thinking? And why can’t he shut off his killing instincts once they finally awake?
The film’s final 10 minutes offers a compelling foot and water chase, but the on-the-nose screenplay makes it a cinch to predict the outcome.
HiT or Miss: The modern day parallels found in “Pilgrimage” make it more than just another adventure quest.