Notorious criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) is forced to return to London after his son is found dead, and detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) takes the chance to capture the man who shot him three years earlier.
Writer Director Eran Creevy’s first film, Shifty, premiered at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in 2009, so having his second film as a surprise film at the festival feels oddly right. Creevy has grown and developed from the director who made a semi-autobiographical crime flick into a director who has captured the dark side of London on film.
James McAvoy plays Max, the cop whose soul has been tortured ever since he let Jake Sternwood, one of London’s biggest criminals, slip through his fingers. His leg has also been tortured since Sternwood shot him. McAvoy captures the essence of a man who is determined not to let Sternwood go and, while he does not have a lot of room for character development, the film is so plot driven that McAvoy gets away with a few smart ass lines and a couple of impressive scenes.
While Mark Strong manages the role of Jake Sternwood ably – and has a lovely scene where he is confronted with his son’s dead body and really proves that he can do more than shout and look imposing – he is perhaps the wrong choice for the role, simply because we have seen him do this too many times before. It would have been interesting to see the film if McAvoy and Strong’s roles were switched, however, as it seems both are just staying with the roles that he knows he can do well. There is nothing wrong with that; it just gets samey after a while.
The rest of the cast is made up of David Morrissey, Andrea Riseborough and Peter Mullan and, while none of them really have a lot to do, they serve to further the plot and keep the action moving.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film is its visuals. London has never looked so blue and dark, other than in The Sweeney, but Welcome to the Punch is the film that The Sweeney would like to be. The plot, written by Creevy, is complex enough that the audience is left guessing, but just clear enough that we are never lost or overwhelmed. The payoff is fairly standard for a crime thriller, but there are some lovely twists and turns along the way, and a complete 180 degree turn in terms of loyalty, that reminds us that Creevy has an eye for plot.
As director, Creevy is less strong, and seems to rely on visuals and odd camera angles for flair. The character’s motivations are clear, but they are just a little too one dimensional and too focused on their goals to be properly rounded out. That said, there are some fantastic uses of slow motion and silence that make Welcome to the Punch more than your standard crime thriller.
In all, Welcome to the Punch may feel familiar in terms of story, but Creevy has created a film filled with visual flair. The plot is a little too slight to cover the running time, but Welcome to the Punch is a definite step up for the director. McAvoy and Strong don’t get a chance to delineate, but this is a film that is driven by plot, not character, and in that respect, it does well.