Derek Winnert

Welcome to the Punch ** (2013, James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, David Morrissey, Peter Mullen) – Movie Review

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I’m sorry to be very hard on this slick, fast-moving and atmospheric London-set crime thriller, but, though it’s sometimes exciting, it really doesn’t offer many surprises or real thrills and the story is so complicated it is difficult to follow, making it feel an effort.

The good news is that one of my favourite Brit actors, Mark Strong, is excellent as the essentially good-hearted bad guy, a reclusive ex-crook (hell, he’s been hiding away in Iceland!) forced back to London after his son’s involved in a fatally failed heist. Looming menacingly over events, Strong has easily the best role, a complex, unusual character, especially for a film’s villain.

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I’m a huge fan of the main star, that normally super actor James McAvoy, but here he is miscast as a tough London police detective who tries to grab this unexpected chance to catch his man. He’s well bitter and obsessed with payback because the strangely principled Strong is to him just one plain nasty bad bloke who humiliated and wounded him years earlier when he tried to take him and his gang down single-handedly.

The problem is, can you imagine the 5’ 7” McAvoy as a drug-taking, loose-cannon, stop-at-nothing detective with a huge gun? What we need here is the young Al Pacino (think Serpico) with an Essex accent. It’s a tribute to McAvoy’s skills that he gives a respectable performance outside his comfort zone. But a beard just isn’t enough to help him to look tough, and his accent is wobbling too, with a mix of drama academy and Glasgow among the London drawl.

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And David Morrissey is even less convincing as a glum crusading police chief mixed up in a mega conspiracy plot and (despite her star billing on the posters) Andrea Riseborough is wasted in an unsympathetically written, thin, short role as McAvoy’s loyal cop colleague. Even Peter Mullen’s not particularly much cop as one of Strong’s buddies. Not his fault either, he’s not got enough to work on with this script.

Writer-director Eran Creevy (Shifty) says he’s a fan of hard-boiled Hong Kong thrillers like The Killer and Infernal Affairs but this London version seems just soft-boiled and runny. Is it just me, or are choreographed gun battles not a goer in our fair capital city? As the film’s co-produced by Ridley and (the late) Tony Scott, you expect dramatic ­­fireworks. They must have loved the flashy-looking visuals, but dramatically this is more like a damp squib.

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Welcome to the Punch has a well-used decent-sized budget, it’s very professional and it certainly is strikingly filmed. But it feels cold and empty. The moody photography of the London locales is too self-consciously arty to be either interestingly atmospheric or coolly beautiful. That ugly/beautiful Canary Wharf architecture is becoming a real cliché as a movie backdrop now. Give me honest old Big Ben, the Eye and Tower Bridge any day! No, really, give me Soho and Covent Garden, like in Jason Statham’s new movie, Hummingbird.

The cinematography just tries too hard, recalling a dull visit to the theatre when you come away praising the gorgeous sets and remember nothing of the drama. And the photography never integrates into the fabric of the film.

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Mark Strong apart, the actors similarly are just acting, never inhabiting ‘real’ characters. It’s all just play and pretence. The action and gunplay are well enough staged, but they don’t really convince either. It reminds me of being a kid, playing cops and robbers with a plastic gun, bang bang you’re dead, oh no you’re not, you’re just playing.

I didn’t believe in a single character or one word of the story and this is a film that takes itself real seriously and wants me to. Now I realise I have been too hard on the movie. It’s perfectly acceptable and entertaining as a basic London thriller, but it asks you to look for so much more from it.

© Derek Winnert 2013 Movie Review

Check out more reviews on http://derekwinnert.com

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