The setup is relatively simple; Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) is a hardened, young British policeman obsessed with capturing super criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong). Following an unsuccessful capture attempt years before, shown in the opening sequence, Lewinsky gets unceremoniously shot in the knee. David Morrissey, David Mays and Andrea Riseborough provide the supporting cast, as McAvoy and Strong find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation brought to light by the shooting of Sternwood’s son.
James McAvoy makes this face a lot…
I don’t really know where to begin with a film I felt had so many negatives, so I’ll start with some of the positives. The editing of the film is tight and well executed and at just over 90 mins long, it rolled by swiftly and never dragged. It has to be said that Eran Creevy knows how to deliver an exciting set piece. The opening and closing sequences were well shot and understated, and managed to avoid descending into implausible action al la the latter Die Hard films. Unfortunately the positives stop there for me. Welcome to the Punch has that truly impressive quality whereby it manages to be completely predictable but extremely confusing. The characters seemed underdeveloped and their motivations over-thought. This meant it was easy to establish from early on in the film who was on what side, but by the end you were none the wiser as to why anyone had behaved in the way that they had behaved. The plot is formulaic in structure, but its execution and conclusion, instead of being original and profound, left me baffled and somewhat annoyed.
Like a lot…..
McAvoy’s character is served up as a ‘maverick’ police officer who we should sympathise with due to his persistent gammy knee. Nevertheless, Creevy fails to ever really authenticate Lewinsky’s obsession with Sternwood any further than what we see in the first two minutes. I kept thinking he should just be grateful he wasn’t shot in the face. As well as struggling to get behind Lewinsky’s motivation and almost tortured demeanour throughout the film, I felt McAvoy was a strange choice for the role. His south London accent was slightly forced and he seemed uncomfortable at times with the brooding nature of the part . This film has earned praise for avoiding such cockney clichés, such as the overuse of the C word or saying ‘you slag’, but McAvoy’s accent was a cliché in itself. Set in one of the most diverse cities in the world, would it have been that much of a stretch that our main character was Scottish? McAvoy may have been able to do more with the dialogue had he not been so preoccupied with the dialect. I doubt it though, as the dialogue felt like a script by numbers throughout. Mark Strong does his best with the one dimensional Sternwood but doesn’t quite manage to get the balance right between dangerous criminal and moral purveyor.
You get the point…
Unfortunately if the plot, the dialogue and the characters are unconvincing then there is not much left for me to admire apart from the cars going really fast and the pretty shots of London’s Docklands. In other reviews many critics argue that Creevy had created a film that holds up to its American counter parts, in which the opening sequence could easily have been LA or New York. This is an accurate assessment, but for me this acts in detriment to the film rather than a compliment. A British crime thriller should be as incomparable from the States as our justice systems. I want my British films to have style, substance, originality and swagger. Welcome to the Punch failed to deliver on any of these wishes.