Welcome to the Punch

Posted: March 21, 2013 in Film reviews
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Written and directed by Eran Creevy. Starring James McAvoy, Mark Strong and David Morrissey.

A glossy British crime thriller made in the style of a Hollywood action film and with a cast to die for, but does it dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee or take a dive in the fifth?

Max Lewinsky (McAvoy) is a burned out cop living with a gammy knee, courtesy of an incident three years before when he failed to catch arch criminal Jacob Sternwood (Strong). During a heist Sternwood shot him in the leg and then fled the country with the proceeds of the robbery, turning Lewinsky into an embittered man.

When Sternwood’s teenage son is shot and wounded in London however, Lewinsky sees an opportunity to get his revenge on Sternwood, figuring he’s bound to return to the UK to try and see his boy. He gets permission from his boss (Morrissey) to stake out the hospital where Sternwood’s son has been taken, and from then on Lewinsky and his partner (Andrea Riseborough) slowly become embroiled in a conspiracy that goes beyond Sternwood and may even involve their fellow officers. Lines blur and before long Lewinsky and Sternwood might find themselves on the same side…

Visually this is a film that looks great; with large swathes filmed at night and in the Canary Wharf area it shows London in a way that’s not often seen: slick bright, modern, and at times it’s almost like you’re watching the Shanghai scenes from Skyfall.

Creevy directs with good pace and a nice eye, and several of the set pieces are deftly handled, in particular an assault on an Icelandic house, and shoot-outs in a hotel room and an empty club. Cast wise it’s hard to imagine you could do much better, and everyone in it gives a great performance, even if some of their roles entail paper thin characterisation. In particular McAvoy and Morrissey excel, and whilst Strong is perhaps a little too taciturn at times he still comes across as a forceful presence and it says a lot when even secondary characters are played by the likes of Peter Mullen and Daniel Mays.

It’s a shame then that the script doesn’t equal the direction and casting, and it suggests that perhaps it’s in directing rather than writing that Creevy’s talents lie. Beneath the glossy exterior and top notch cast, is a story that’s all too familiar, a tale that throws up few surprises, and is too convoluted for its own good.

The dialogue is at times clunky and derivative, and when early on someone shouts down a radio at Lewinsky something to the effect of “Wait for back up, don’t go after Sternwood on your own, you’re obsessed!” it kind of sets the tone and you’re almost waiting for a “Leave it, Terry, he’s not worth it.” Though luckily it never gets quite that bad…

Character wise as good as the cast are, they’re all lumbered with fairly standard types from this kind of film (the cop on the edge, the noble criminal, the crooked copper etc.) and it’s a shame that better couldn’t be done with the cast and premise than this.

It has a lot going for it, but as a whole it’s summed up by one particular scene in a chintzy front room involving four men with guns and a dotty old woman that goes from tense yet humorous to just plain silly in the space of a few moments.

Glossy looks and a great cast don’t compensate nearly enough for an unoriginal plot and by the numbers script. Welcome to the Punch is a film that lands a few sharp jabs, but fails to deliver a knockout blow.

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