Welcome to the Punch: Film Review

Welcome to the Punch one sheet - P 2013
Despite its visual polish and fine ensemble, this British police drama is strictly by-the-numbers.

A top-notch cast including James McAvoy and Mark Strong goes into full macho mode for this British crime thriller.

Judging by the recent import The Sweeney and now the policier Welcome to the Punch, testosterone seems to be in ample supply in Blighty. This high-octane crime drama written and directed by Eran Creevy (Shifty) certainly looks terrific, reflecting the influence of Ridley Scott, one of its executive producers. And it boasts a terrific British cast, including James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Peter Mullan and David Morrissey, all in full-on macho mode. But despite its fast pacing and well-staged action set-pieces, the film fails to make much of an impression. Perhaps it needed a memorable catch phrase on the order of “Get your trousers on, you’re nicked.”

The scruffy-looking McAvoy plays Max, a London detective who in the film’s slam-bang opening sequence winds up getting shot in the knee by arch-criminal Jacob (Strong) during an extended post-robbery chase. Cut to three years later, when the still physically and emotionally damaged Max gets a second chance at his old nemesis when Jacob’s teenage son (Elyes Gabel), clearly following in his father’s footsteps, winds up in a hospital in police custody after a botched robbery, prompting Jacob to return from his comfortable retirement in Iceland.

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The ensuing cat-and-mouse game, in which Jacob is aided by his longtime older mentor (Mullan), becomes increasingly complex, as Max finds himself caught up in a shady conspiracy between politicos and the upper reaches of the police department that may involve his chief (Morrissey).

Featuring the sort of metallic blue-gray visual palette that seems to represent cool these days, the film makes excellent use of its East London locations, especially the business district of Canary Wharf. Director Creevy -- clearly worshipping at the shrine of such filmmakers as John Woo and Michael Mann, among others -- invests the frequent shootouts and chases with a stylized intensity that rarely lets up.

Unfortunately, the schematic and muddled storyline is less expertly handled, with such relationships as the one between Max and his loyal female partner (Andrea Riseborough) barely explored and the details of the conspiracy remaining murky. The screenplay’s relentlessly solemn tone is alleviated only in a single sequence depicting a stand-off involving a nasty criminal’s elderly mother (Ruth Sheen). This tense but darkly comic scene briefly brings the proceedings to life, but it comes as too little, too late.

McAvoy, so effective at projecting an everyman quality, seems to be straining too hard as the hard-boiled cop, while Strong infuses his portrayal with his patented steeliness. Riseborough is very effective in the film’s early going, but her character is unfortunately dispatched rather early on. That leaves Mullan to steal the picture with a sly, understated turn infused with subtle comic grace notes.

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Despite the promise of its title, whose meaning isn’t quite what you’d think, the film never quite packs the necessary punch.

Opens March 27 (IFC Films)

Production: Worldview Entertainment, Between the Eyes, Automatik Entertainment, Scott Free Productions

Cast: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan, Dannielle Brent, Johnny Harris

Director/screenwriter: Eran Creevy

Producers: Rory Aitken, Ben Pugh, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones

Executive producers: Christopher Woodrow, Molly Conners, Stuart Ford, Xavier Marchand, Jan Pace, Ridley Scott, Liza Marshall, Maria Cestone, Sarah Johnson Redlich, James Atherton

Director of photography: Ed Wild

Editor: Chris Gill

Production designer: Crispian Sallis

Costume designer: Natalie Ward

Composer: Harry Escott

Not rated, 99 min.