DIR/WRI: Eran Creevy • • PRO: Rory Aitken, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones , Ben Pugh, • DOP: Ed Wild • ED: Chris Gill • DES: Crispian Sallis • CAST: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough
British crime thrillers, by and large, are more miss than hit. There are staples of the genre – it must feature Vinny Jones. It must involved tailored suits. A section of it must be set in Canary Wharf. A Jaguar must be visible in at least one shot. An upcoming indie band must perform / be used as extras. With Welcome To The Punch, Eran Creevy is attempting to throw out the rulebook of British crime thrillers – and instead use the American rulebook. Director Eran Creevy’s previous work, Shifty, was very much of the British school of crime drama. It’s interesting to see him change from a Guy Ritchie-esque position and adopt a far more glossier image for his second film.
The story follows Max Lewinsky, played by James McAvoy and Jacob Sternwood, played by Mark Strong. McAvoy is a London detective who’s obsessed with capturing his arch-nemesis, Strong, after he shot and injured him and escaped to Iceland. Following a botched deal involving Strong’s on-screen son, he returns to London and becomes embroiled in a labyrinthine plot involving guns, politicians and crooked cops. On paper, the plot seems like it could work. Crime dramas, by and large, need a large frame to work in and for them to be not be bogged down in message. The story is the story, in other words. Here, however, Creevy’s screenplay falters as the plot is too clever for its own good. Instead of having an emotional line with a simple, thought-out plot, Welcome To The Punch quickly spins out of control and becomes undecipherable and, ultimately, forgettable. James McAvoy and Mark Strong, both established actors, are more than capable of giving their roles meaning and gravitas. Unfortunately, here, there is little to help them along. The initial setup, pitching McAvoy and Strong, as blood enemies who are forced to work together, falters very quickly.
Strong, who has played hardened, remorseless criminals in the past, is far more forgiving and almost tender in this than you’d expect the character to be. It’s true, Creevy’s script may have been attempting to change our expectations; pitching the criminal as a more tender creature. However, the same role was imbued with much more skill by Robert DeNiro in Heat than it was here. That’s not to say that Mark Strong isn’t as effective an actor or that he can’t deliver. Quite the opposite. Strong, given good material, can work just as well as Robert DeNiro. Here, unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. McAvoy, likewise, is drawn as a twitchy, hard-edged cop with an obsessive streak – but the script doesn’t give him the proper amount of time to fully realise the character. The supporting cast, made up of Andrea Riseborough, David Morrisey and Peter Mullan, all turn in good performances. Peter Mullan, in particular, is always a treat to watch. Here playing Strong’s friend, Mullan gives the film’s criminal characters that much-needed sense of ruthlessness that Strong fails to deliver.
It’s not all bad, however. Creevy’s visual style with Welcome To The Punch is fantastic. London has never looked so slick and well-photographed; drenched in cool, icy blues and using high-angle shots reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Heat – which is a huge influence on this film. One scene in particular, involving McAvoy, Strong and Mullan and a sofa, stands out as a particularly effective scene. Creevy’s sense of pacing, attention to detail and overall visual style is impressive – it’s just a real shame that that screenplay wasn’t up to the same high standard. Welcome To The Punch is a visually-entertaining but overall hollow experience. If only he had handed over the script to someone else instead of taking it all on, it would have been a far more enjoyable film. As it is, Welcome To The Punch is a missed opportunity to write the next chapter in British crime films.
15A (see IFCO website for details)
Welcome To The Punch is released on 15th March 2013