The trailers for this film made it look rather tacky and formulaic, especially with the seemingly ubiquitous James McAvoy shouting and pulling faces again. However it turned to be quite an interesting piece.
Fast rising Eran Creevy has gone on record that the inspiration for this film is Hong Kong crime cinema, especially the more recent examples, and it certainly shows. The film has the same slow burning, dour, melancholy mood of the Hong Kong crime movie, complete with tragedy, obsession, revenge, codes of honour, twisty complex plots, evil heartless villains, a moral ambiguity that paints everything in shades of grey, and an ending that will baffle and bewilder those used to the clean cut conclusions of Western thrillers, and of course lots of cool action and high octane gunplay complete with flying around the air in slow motion as bullets rip everything around them to shreds.
This is obviously a love letter to Hong Kong cinema, and Creevy captures the mood and feel of the genre and its archetypical characters very well, right down to the hazy cinematography, the endless overhead nigh time shots of a London skyscraper filled Docklands area (now a good look-alike for Hong Kong's skyline) and the minimal moody score. Part of the fun, and the strangeness of the film, is indeed in seeing this genre transposed to London, an environment and culture alien to that which spawned it despite the historical ties. This is no pastiche or jokey parody however; it's all done in deadly earnestness.
The story, which again looks East for inspiration, starts with dedicated young cop Max Lewinsky (Macavoy) on the trail of notorious armed robber Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), getting shot in the leg by the man himself after a hand to hand battle during a daring motorcycle armed raid in Docklands, leaving him part crippled and fuelled by anger and revenge. Years later, the shooting of Sternwood's young son and a friend leads him out of hiding, and the tunnel visioned Lewinsky sees his chance for vengeance and absolution. But along with his tough female partner (and lover) Sarah Hawks (Andrea Risborough), he soon finds that there is more to the case than just Sternwood, and cop and criminal become uneasy partners in a war of revenge that involves fanatical ex- military men like Dean Warns (Johnny Harris), conniving political spin- doctors looking to make the right headlines before an election, well- meaning but underhand policemen who tire of burying their friends and want to see a fully armed British police (they are mostly unarmed still) and the large paramilitary security firm that sees a tidy profit from being the ones to supply the arms, training, body armour and other equipment. Much gunplay and violence will ensue, and moral certainties, identities and loyalties will blur.
The acting is good all round from the best of British character acting, McAvoy, now a Hollywood A-Lister, goes against type and delivers an obsessed, wounded angry Lewinsky with skill and restraint. Playing off him is the brilliant Mark Strong, here playing a villain of sorts, but a noble one. Strong has always given depth and soul to his villains, and here he goes one further and has you rooting for him despite his character's violent history. Andrea Risborough does well as Lewinsky's partner and lover, and makes a convincing tough cop, especially in a very tense and nail biting face off with an adversary. David Morrisey is also good as Lewisnky's boss, who may be hiding secrets of his own, as is the great Peter Cullan as Sternwood's old criminal associate turned car dealer. Also noteworthy is Johnny Harris as the ex-military hit man Warns, going beyond mere heavy to create a fascinating and troubled psyche (killers, even the villainous ones, always have an emotional side to them in HK cinema)
The action is well staged, transferring the "heroic bloodshed" style of flying through the air firing randomly from sideways pointing pistols and machine guns in slow motion to mundane London settings, not least a particularly funny (the only funny scene) in which the heroes face off Warns at his grandmother's flat without her being made aware of what is really going on (A typical HK set up) A lot of the movie takes place in a huge, moody container dock, another popular HK action location (I can't recall any HK crime movie that doesn't feature at least one scene in a container dock) from which the film gets it's bizarre title. ("The Punch" is one of the container bays, and a sign proclaiming "Welcome to the Punch" greets every character entering) There are no dull spots and the movie flows very nicely. The ending is ambiguous with many loose threads hanging, obviously baiting a sequel should this prove successful.
Creevy shows great talent for a green director, and will hopefully continue to deliver. After all, another young director made a breakout by transposing the Hong Kong crime dramas he so loved to his home soil 20 years ago, and if he, and we, are lucky we be mentioning his name alongside Tarantino's at some point in the future.