Sunday, 24 March 2013

Welcome to the Punch Review

“Action Cinema” isn’t a genre that the UK Film Industry has really deemed necessary to showcase. For that matter, neither is the high-octane police drama. In a country that’s TV police consist of handing out speeding tickets, dealing with binge drinkers and enforcing ASBOs, it’s a world away from the criminal organisations and armed heists that persists on the television sets of our neighbours oversees. While Britain hangs onto its heyday of 1970s/80s police dramas such as The Sweeney and The Professionals, Eran Creevy’s second feature film Welcome to the Punch tries to implement some well-needed, modern sophistication back to our rather dated and tedious concept of the genre. 

After failing to apprehend notorious criminal, Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) gets his last chance to make amends when Sternwood’s son is shoot in a meeting that goes wrong. Yet both find themselves engulfed in a conspiracy that involves arms suppliers, corruption within police and the political elections. 

What’s immediately evident with Welcome to the Punch is the film’s look. Creevy and the Director of Photography Ed Wild clearly had a specific vision on framing the ensuing action and tense drama. Taking inspiration from the styles of cinematographers such as Dion Beebe (Collateral), Dante Spinottie (Heat) and Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight), the film’s dark blue tints and dynamic camerawork complement the effective set and lighting designs, creating a film with an intense visual personality. The sound design is also excellent, adding immersion to Chris Gill’s fine editing, especially during the visceral shootouts and chases. 

However the most damning problem with Welcome to the Punch is the underwhelming lack of depth, both in its characters and in its story. With a plot utilising narrative elements and prompts from a multiplicity of action/ crime cinema hallmarks, Creevy shies away from injecting any real personality or uniqueness, other than that persistently shown through its visuals. With themes of revenge and redemption, it fails to create any emotional depth both between the two leads and in their individual capacities. The disgraced detective and resolute criminal aren’t exactly unique archetypes to the genre and here it’s all too familiar. Neither character is particularly fleshed out and subsequently both fail to create any relationship with the audience. The same goes for much of the supporting cast that in hindsight, are belittled into near redundancy. Meanwhile the plot is relatively competent but doesn’t take enough risks to build anything distinctive. 

It’s a real shame, as the film’s cast is a mixture of established talent from the likes of Peter Mullen and Mark Strong, and up-and-coming faces from the UK such as Andrea Riseborough. Yet the script never really harnesses the wealth of potential available. Mark Strong puts in a surprisingly pedestrian performance that’s ultimately let down by the underwhelming writing. James McAvoy’s whininess and general smug nature that persists through many of his roles is thankfully limited here. But again it a role that's undermined by shallow development. The same goes from BAFTA “Rising Star” nominee Andrea Riseborough whose roles in Shadow Dancer and Made in Dagenham haven’t really impressed, but here she’s painfully transparent to the film’s progression. David Morrissey is the only standout, but even then it's nothing to run home about. 

Welcome to the Punch is a film that teeters on the brink of becoming more “style over substance”. There’s no doubt that the film is a visual and audible powerhouse, yet when the ensuing drama and characters are largely forgettable, then its hard to call it a tight package. For an action film, it’s set-pieces are visceral and entertaining. But as an action/crime film, then it disappointingly fails to create a successful balance. It's not below-par, it's just painfully ordinary. But a good-looking ordinary. 


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