IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 99 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A few years ago, criminal mastermind Jacob Sternwood injured London detective Max Lewinsky and fled to Iceland to escape the clutches of the police. He has now returned to London because his son has been shot and wounded in a failed heist. This gives Lewinsky another chance to catch the man he has always been after. Max’s lieutenant tells him to back off, but he secretly works with his partner Sarah to join the hunt. Meanwhile, Jacob tries to find out why one of his gang members is on a murderous rampage, putting him on a collision course with Max……
A couple of weeks ago I checked out writer/director Eran Creevy’s film prior to this one, called Shifty, and was quite impressed by a film which was made for peanuts yet rose above the glut of miserabilist council-estate dramas with its look, heart and honestly. I reckon that anyone could tell Creevy had talent to spare, and now he has made a second movie, on a higher budget but still one that would barely count as lunch money for a Steven Spielberg production. Well, after walking out from Welcome To The Punch you’ll still probably think that Creevy has talent to spare, but a talent that needs focusing and disciplining. It’s a film which has great potential and seems like it’s going to be brilliant in the early stages, while Creevy’s enthusiasm bursts off the screen throughout, but I wonder if being both the scriptwriter and the director of what is partially an action movie was a mistake when there are so many bad choices and considerable clumsiness which increase as the film goes on.
Now straight away I must emphasise that Welcome To The Punch looks, and indeed, sounds, fantastic, while it’s equally great that a huge effort had been made to not have the story take place in the world you would expect it to. No cockney geezers, no red buses, in fact apart from a few aerial shots you can barely tell the movie was set and filmed in London at all. The London of this film is perhaps the London you would imagine Michael Mann or Christopher Nolan to put on screen, full of neon skyscrapers and rather dehumanized. The low budget means that this world seems sparsely populated, but that adds to the vague science-fictional feel. Nearly everything is drenched in a cold blue that sometimes works wonders. There is an incredibly atmospheric scene set in a disused nightclub where the dance floor light is swaying back and forth bathing everything in light blue accompanied by enhanced sound effects. The eerie effect of this scene [which, of course, is soon interrupted by gunplay] is something I won’t forget for a long time. Harry Escott’s omni-present Tangerine Dream meets Giorgio Moroder meets Hans Zimmer score would probably be a pretty boring listen on its own but goes perfectly with the images, helping to ramp up the excitement at choice moments and certainly aiding the often unusual atmosphere.
Of course there’s also a plot and it does its best to keep you on your toes. For a while it seems like we are watching a British Heat. At other times the proceedings seem closer to something like The Killer. Unfortunately the film makes less and less sense as it goes on and I wondered if this story would do better as a TV mini-series where it would have time to breath. Creevy packs a lot into his tale, which keeps the pace fast, but it sometimes seems like too much, and some things make so little impact that they would have been better off not being in the film at all. For instance there are good scenes between James MacAvoy and Andrea Riseborough early on, seemingly the hero and heroine of the film, and they even have some chemistry, but it’s all for nought. You certainly won’t be bored watching Welcome To The Punch, but it gives the impression of being cut down from a longer version which made a bit more sense. The film feels cluttered, though it’s also very predictable in places. I guessed a lot of what was going on half way through and spotted a supposedly ‘secret’ villain right near the beginning, which is bad considering I’m usually crap at that sort of thing. I always admire films which attempt a decent plot as well as lots of action though.
The action…..well……there really is plenty of it, far more actually than the latest films to come from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham. Motorbikes race down tunnels, people shoot at each other in cars, and rounds and round of ammunition are fired in houses. I’ve read of the influence of John Woo in two reviews, but Woo’s gunplay is graceful and balletic despite all the mayhem. Most of the action in this film is shot in the dreadful fashion of most action in films today, meaning that close-ups rule and it’s hard to tell who has been shot [this isn’t helped by having many cast-members looking virtually the same] or indeed what the hell has happened. There’s less shakycam than in some films, but Creevy is just doing what all the young directors doing action [well, not just action, think of the horror that was Les Miserables] seem to do. What is disturbing and dreadful for cinema [as I pointed out in my review of the afore-mentioned musical] is how no review I have read so far has mentioned this, meaning that this rubbish is becoming the excepted norm. Creevy just needs to mature. He’s got time. Take Nolan; in Batman Begins the action was abysmally shot, but fast-forward to The Dark Knight Returns and he’s finally learnt how to do it properly, you know, so you can see what’s going on and don’t get sore eyes or feel sick.
There is the odd scene or image which is brilliant, like some rather spooky snooping around the most forbidding dockland area ever, especially when the camera rises into the air to reveal the heroine trapped in a hell of dark buildings and eerie yellow lights. The film is mostly handled seriously though there’s a great stand-off involving lots of armed men and an old lady who is being held hostage but doesn’t know it [some cool slow-motion in this scene too], while Creevy even seems to throw an anti-gun message in there. His fine cast mostly do a great job in the film even when spouting some clumsy dialogue or usually playing archetypes rather than characters. It’s interesting to have a villain who is somewhat sympathetic though, and Mark Strong delivers another superb performance in this role. He may play villain after villain in films, but not one of them is the same. His baddie in Sherlock Holmes is very different from the one in Kick-Ass who is very different from the one in this movie. James MacAvoy seems uneasy playing a part that he seems miscast for, looking too sweet and fresh, while his London accent comes and goes throughout.
I really wanted to praise Welcome To The Punch to the skies. Any British film these days that isn’t a rom-com, heritage drama, kitchen-sink tale or geezer-filled gangster picture deserves praise. Creevy not only wanted to entertain with his film but also to prove we can do different stuff than the norm. The result is certainly lots of fun, but it has far too many flaws to be a total success despite some points of considerable merit. Some of them you can put down to Creezy’s relative inexperience. He’s certainly got a bright future and could productively snapped up by Hollywood but I would prefer it if he stayed here.