Bit light but well lit – ★★½
Those of you with good memories may remember the name Eran Creevy. The director’s first film Shifty was nominated for the BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer in 2010, losing out to Duncan Jones’ Moon. The film did well in the UK but didn’t make much of a dent internationally. It’s been four year since that film premiered so the follow-up Welcome to the Punch is more than welcome and arrives just before we put the director into the “whatever happened to…” pile.
Having proved with Shifty that he can actually put together a motion picture, Creevy has been rewarded with backing from Tony (RIP) and Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions and a much bigger budget – Shifty cost £100,000, Punch meant he had £5.5 million at his disposal. Aside from better production values, it also means a stellar ensemble cast can be brought on board. The two men whose names get to appear above the film’s title are James McAvoy and Mark Strong, with McAvoy taking on the cop and Strong playing the robber in this tale of a London MET officer (McAvoy as Max) forced to work with the criminal (Strong as Sternwood) who ruined his life to solve a bigger problem.
So you’ve got British gangsters, police corruption, car chases and shoot-outs. But, and welcome to the bad news, they’re not really knitted together very well. Max is a pretty unlikeable soul and while he’s disgruntled ever since Sternwood shot him in the leg a few years ago (enjoy the regular knee-cap fluid draining through a syringe scenes), you’re still not really rooting for him to either catch the bad guy or sort out the problems in the Met or his own life. His relationship with his partner, Shadow Dancer’s Andrea Riseborough, is almost laughable and while Creevy obviously felt things would be better with a romantic sub-plot, he has really failed in its implementation.But if you can put these gripes aside there’s a pretty fun, engaging little action film here. David Morrissey is a man coming to prominence stateside in AMC’s The Walking Dead as The Governor, but here he’s great as he remembers how to use his British accent and brings the right amount of conflict to his role as Max’s boss and head of the Met. Mark Strong is often the best thing in whatever films he appears in and it’s no different here. Any time he is on screen he dominates the screen and I doubt I’m the only one who hopes he never stops playing the calculating bad guy. A quick word for a bizarre cameo from Sightseers’ beardy Steve Oram who appears as a journalist with about two lines and no laughs – what a wasted opportunity. Look out for Another Year’s Ruth Sheen as “Dean’s Nan” (IMDB cast credit), funniest (intentionally funny I should add) moment in the film by a long shot.
And lastly to the main supporting player – the city of London, which may never have looked so good on the big screen. The DPs, production designers, gaffers and best boy all deserve gold stars for making it look so shiny, gritty and almost hyperreal at the same time. The opening motorbike chase scene looks as good as anything you’d see in a Christopher Nolan or Michael Bay picture if that’s what you’re into.
Welcome to the Punch works best if you’re willing to put your brain on standby for a while and enjoy the awesome action, pretty city and great bad-guys. There’s not a whole lot of depth here though, so if you want to go “ooooohhh”* as well as “aaaaahhh”**, then go watch Layer Cake or Sexy Beast instead.
* – denotes brain being worked out with thought-provoking plot
** – denotes exciting action scenes involving bangs and booms
UK / Directed By: Eran Creevy / Written By: Eran Creevy / Starring: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan, Daniel Mays, Johnny Harris, Steve Oram / 99min / Action / Release: 15 March 2013 (Ireland, UK)