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Leaving his Irish monastery for the first time, a young novice (Tom Holland, Spiderman: Homecoming) departs with a devoted group of monks and a mysterious former Crusader (Jon Bernthal, “The Punisher”) as they attempt to transport a holy relic to Rome. Threatened at every turn by savage tribes, traitorous Norman soldiers and those that seek the power they believe the relic holds, the young man finds surprising courage while faced with deadly challenges that will push his body, mind and spirit to the breaking point.
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I admit that the storyline is very dense, very complicated. It takes more than one viewing to really put all the pieces together but, when you do, the film does make a great many points. There are also some language issues, albeit minor, that interest a French language junkie like me but might turn off many others. From what I could tell, the film is in Irish, English, French and Latin. (The French is not Norman French, as would be appropriate. "Vikings" does a better job presenting the French of its time if anyone wants to pursue this avenue...) This is a bit weird and the accents are sliding all over the place but I give the film and the actors credit for delving into this potpourri. The acting is above board. Holland is spot on as the naive, young monk but the best acting is done by Jon Bernthal who plays, for lack of a better term, Holland's keeper. Bernthal is a mute in the film and the audience, frankly, never gets to really know who he is - likely a former Crusader? It's anyone's guess but what his character lacks in speech he makes up for in sheer physicality. His emotions are carried on his face and on his body. He is so relentlessly protective of Holland that I can only say that they are in (platonic, non-sexual) love with each other. If there's a relationship which helps to drive the movie, this is it. Bernthal definitely deserves notice for his portrayal - an absolute scene-stealer, in the best sense. The cinematography is brilliant, whether it is the agonizingly green wilds of Ireland or the thick, claustrophobic air of the Ardennes, the photography is rich and varied and plays as much a role in this film as any other actor. And the directing is calm, studied and smart. What prevents the film from a five-star rating is just its tortured storyline that requires an extra viewing. On all other grounds, it absolutely excels and comes highly recommended. (One oddity - this is one of the very few films I've seen without a female character at all.)
So, what is it about? Religion, corruption, fanaticism, fear, passion, duty, manipulation, guilt, purity, and hope. If you go into it looking at themes rather than the plot, I think you will enjoy it more. I like that they didn't throw in the obligatory female or love interest. It is better for having skipped that.
Honestly, I had no idea what the plot was about when I picked this up. I wasn't expecting much because of the reviews, but was pleasantly surprised. I wouldn't say I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, but I was uneasy the whole time. I like movies that make me feel, and the ending felt satisfying to me.