For many years I’ve wondered why the British film industry never tried to deliver slick and stylish action films to match its US counterparts. Everything had to be so grim and gritty, so realistic. It would appear that writer/director Eran Creevy felt the same way, because Welcome To The Punch must be one of the best looking British films in years.
The film follows Max Lewinsky (McAvoy) as he attempts to track down Jacob Sternwood (Strong), a master criminal who shot him during a robbery. Sternwood is forced to return to England after his son is injured in a drug deal gone wrong. However, as Lewinsky and Sternwood get deeper into their respective investigations, they realise they may have more in common than initially thought.
Creevy has made it very clear that Welcome To The Punch is his homage to Michael Mann’s crime movies and work from the likes of John Woo and Ringo Lam, whose Hong Kong exploits in the ‘80s and ‘90s changed the language of action cinema. It’s a tough challenge and while he may never reach the heights of those masters, he does make a valiant effort.
The opening of Welcome To The Punch is stunning, but the film doesn’t really recover from it. Shooting in Canary Warf, Creevy makes London look like a steely-blue metropolis (well, it is produced by Ridley Scott) and the style and tension on display is hard to top for the rest of the film. It’ still good fun, but everything else is a bit hollow until McAvoy and Strong come face-to-face at the mid-way point. At times character logic is discarded because they need to do something that looks (or takes place somewhere) cool, rather than having it service the plot.
It is clear that everyone involved in Welcome To The Punch wanted to make a British action movie that they can be proud of – nobody is phoning it in. McAvoy and Strong bring charisma as the leads, while David Morrissey, Peter Mullan and Andrea Riseborough are all great in supporting roles. Riseborough in particular shares some good chemistry with McAvoy and it’s a shame that their characters diverge at the end of the second act.
Normally it’s an insult to say that a film is style over substance, however, that’s not the case with Welcome To The Punch – it’s a compliment. It’s great to see someone making a British thriller that can match-up to Hollywood action cinema. I get the feeling (I hope) that Creevy’s pic will set a new benchmark for how contemporary British films should look. Welcome To The Punch may not be a total knockout, but it will leave you reeling on the ropes.