Director: Eran Creevy
Cast: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Peter Mullan, Andrea Riseborough, Daniel Mays and David Morrissey
Plot: Bitter cop, Lewinsky (McAvoy) has a chance for redemption, when his old nemesis, Sternwood (Strong) makes a return to London. However, he is unaware that the stakes are much higher than they initially seem…
Before watching the actual film, I judged Welcome to the Punch poorly. Its premise doesn’t give off the best pitch. McAvoy’s character, Max Lewinsky, seems like the stereotypical cop with a grudge, who, according to the trailer, eventually teams up with career criminal, Sternwood (Mark Strong playing every other Mark Strong character), to take on a bigger enemy. It seemed like nothing new. However, it had enough cool set-pieces and action moments to make it worth a watch. I am glad I made that choice, because there is more than Welcome to the Punch than meets the eye (somewhat fitting considering the plot).
First thing: god, London looks beautiful. Usually in films, we see London as the gritty wasteland city, corrupt with crime and poverty. It mostly appears like a real-life Gotham, especially when depicted by Guy Ritchie or Danny Boyle. However, Creevy makes London out to be glamorous, something that I have never perceived London to be in the world of cinema. It makes a nice change and Creevy does well to try and squeeze a beautiful glimpse at the city in almost every outdoor wide shot he gets.
Set-pieces aside, Welcome to the Punch evolves into the kind of film I have been wanting for a while now. It plays out like a standard cop show we might see on the BBC, but with big names attached to the title. Time has been spent on this script, coming up with a intricate, emotional story that, clichéd characters aside, hits the mark at every point. However, most films that take this route miss out on the action. This isn’t usually a bad thing, but Welcome to the Punch proves that action and mystery can go together if the director is up to the job. With this film, we not only get a good crime thriller, we get some great action sequences as a pay-off too.
In many ways, this is the film I hoped ‘The Sweeney’ would be. Although that wasn’t a bad movie, it lacked something that I think ‘Welcome to the Punch’ picks up. There was never a dull moment here, making sure that every moment not spent firing a gun was used on sharp dialogue and character-building. One could argue that there was a twist too many by the end, but, at the same time, that could give the film a help with the DVD sales. Creevy is a great director and there are certain moments that I want to pause and soak in. They must have cost a bit of extra money to get, but they were so worth it.
If we doubted McAvoy in ‘Wanted’ and ‘X-Men Origins: First Class’, he has won us over in this film. He is brilliant as Lewinsky, being both relatable and nasty at the same time. He has chemistry with every actor he shares the screen with, even if his character comes off as fairly reserved at times. He works well to act against veteran actor, Strong, who does well with what he has got, but as I have said before, this is nothing new for Strong. There are moments when the script calls for him to be the silent, strong figure, when you want his character to expand. There is a point in the film, where Sternwood hits an emotional low point and you wished the script would let Strong get the most out of the moment.
As Sternwood becomes the anti-hero of the piece, the movie finds itself lacking a decent villain. It is always a problem with crime thrillers like this, that like to keep you guessing till the very end. There are times, when you think you know who the bad guy is, only to find that they are just another pawn in this game. Those actors do well though, especially Johnny Harris, who is the closest thing to a real villain we get. He plays the part well, especially in a fantastic stand-off at his grandmother’s house. It is the best scene and is directed beautifully.
All in all, this is a great film, where my only criticisms seem like nit-picking. I hope that ‘Welcome to the Punch’ attracts a market for more films to be made here. Big London crime thrillers could be the next thing, taking the spotlight from American action blockbusters. It’s a small hope, but one I want to put faith in.
Final verdict: A movie like this has been waiting to be made. Good balance of crime mystery, thriller and action.