25 March 2013 | TheSquiss
It wants to be the British Heat but the gas is set too low.
Welcome to the Punch is a gritty, adult, Brit-flick, crime thriller. Got that? Whilst that's probably not an entirely fair summary, but it's better than 'It's the British Heat', which is what I heard a couple leaving the auditorium proclaim.
It is a strong possibility that Eran Creevy had Heat in mind when shooting Welcome to the Punch, his second film as director (after Shifty, from which he has recast Daniel Mays and Jason Flemyng) but it lacks the class, it isn't as smooth, we don't identify with the protagonists in the same way and, heck, we're not going to be talking about it eighteen years later.
Creevy opens the film moodily with striking strips of light that could be daylight through a blind or cold bars on a prison cell, something some of the characters do, should or will get to know very well. The imagery blends into a smoky scene with atmospheric music that heightens the expectation and builds the excitement of what this clever thriller will reveal. It's an excellent start to Welcome to the Punch that, unfortunately, isn't sustained.
Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) is a crook with a moral compass, of sorts, as detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) discovers when chasing him through the sewers after a heist. Rather than decorate the tunnel with Lewinsky's brains, Sternwood opts to shoot his knee out instead and make his escape without adding murder to his list of crimes. Fast forward x number of years and Sternwood is forced out of hiding after his son is involved on his own heist that goes belly up, which may give Lewinsky the opportunity to lock up his nemesis. But, naturally, it isn't that simple as the investigations suggest a conspiracy that runs deep.
There are periodic moments of surprise, not least of all seeing Sightseers' Steve Osram in a 'squint to see it' role as a reporter and some fine action and suspense. Principal amongst the list of reasons to watch Welcome to the Punch is Andrea Riseborough as Lewinsky's sidekick, Sarah. In last year's W.E. she pulled off the remarkable trick of emerging from a quagmire unscathed and here, though this is far from a dreadful film, she is one of the few actors who convinces or is always enjoyable to watch. There's a rawness to her performance as she tries to counteract Lewinsky flailing cop with dwindling confidence.
Strong is on a roll here, taking his time, exuding confidence in his own ability but never advancing beyond a steady pace. McAvoy is adequate but a far cry from the quality of his performances in Shameless and The Last King of Scotland. He's worth more than this and I'm going to brush over this performance in the hope that next week's screening of Trance sees him back on form.
Wooden spoons belong (again) to David Morrissey and (yet again) to Daniel Mays who is dangerously close to steeling Danny Dyer's mantle.
Overall, Welcome to the Punch is enjoyable but never blows us away. We're never really able to engage with the characters and it feels like a film with B-list stars and supporting a cast that is destined, deservedly, to remain a rung below them on the ladder.
Catch it on DVD and then, a month later, see if you can remember anything about it.
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