A pulsating score and a dark city open Welcome to the Punch. A beardy James McAvoy is quickly making his way through the blue lit streets of London whilst four men rob a building. As McAvoy reaches the robbery the four men jump on motorcycles and spark a car chase through the empty apocalyptic-esque streets. The men smartly avoid each before the daring and epic cat and mouse car chase ends with McAvoy getting shot and the villain escaping.
Sounds pretty good right? Sadly this is as good Welcome to the Punch gets, as unoriginal and uninspired writing and direction bog down a potentially brilliant thriller.
The premise is fairly simple, Mark Strong’s Jacob Sternwood is a master criminal and one of the most wanted men in Britain. After the robbery gone wrong he escapes to Scandinavia. A significant amount of time passes when he learns that his son has been shot back in London and, as master crims do, he returns to exact revenge. Thus spurring McAvoy’s detective out of his post-shooting funk and into action.
Eran Creevy is the director; for the most part he has been a second unit director that has worked with the likes of Danny Boyle, Woody Allen and Matthew Vaughn. His direction is clean, dark and glossy, lacking any real life or energy. This hurts the film; the world is a dark one, but is counterbalanced by the constant glossy action. The attitudes of cops and gangsters don’t suit the slow-motion bullets and lavish blood sprays. It is Gangster Squad without the cartoonish characters, which makes Welcome to the Punch a strange experience.
The cast though do some great work. Mark Strong is becoming Mr. Dependable and seems to be able to make the most out of even the simplest of characters. He fills his criminal with equal amounts of charm and menace, delivering some fantastic lines and serving up some bad-ass action. James McAvoy is also up the task, he is sometimes a bit of wet blanket on screen but he comfortably captures the dark underbelly of his angry detective. Between this, Trance and the upcoming Filth, he looks to be trying to rectify his on-screen persona.
As I said up the top, the writing is unoriginal and uninspired. Creevy has also written the screenplay for the film and it is just as lacking in creativity as his direction. His story has been done to death and is as predictable as they come. But as disinterested in telling an original story, Creevy is even less interested in characterization; instead he invents characters at every turn to help his film flow better. This results in the almost criminal misuse of good actors like Jason Flemyng, Peter Mullan and David Morrissey. Most of who amount to nothing more than a cameo.
Welcome to the Punch wasn’t easy for me to sit through. There are elements that really work; the cast are having the time of their lives and really deliver great work. The action is also quite exciting, with the opening setting a great mood. But the direction is an unfocused mess and the writing is cookie cutter. People may very well find enjoyment here, but for me this felt like a poor Michael Mann imitation.
2.0 out of 5.0