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Welcome to the Punch

2013 | 100 min | R | 2.39:1

Welcome to the Punch


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Theatrical release date

 27 March, 2013
 15 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United Kingdom

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Screenshots from Welcome to the Punch Blu-ray

Welcome to the Punch Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, April 19, 2013

“Welcome to the Punch” is a steely, stylish picture, yet it lacks much of its titular promise. Weirdly abrupt and largely inconsequential, the feature is only good for a few decent shoot-outs and chase sequences, where writer/director Eran Creevy shows potential with visceral elements. However, consistency of storytelling eludes him, with “Welcome to the Punch” prone to meandering with complex character associations, almost showing disinterest in itself. Thankfully, a cast of solid U.K. actors pick up the slack, bringing intensity and behavioral nuance to an otherwise airy actioner that feels severely pared down from its original intent.

After a heated run-in with master criminal Jacob (Mark Strong), gung-ho cop Max (James McAvoy) is left with a wounded knee and damaged pride as he watches his target get away. Years later, Max is a defeated man, in deep physical pain and sapped of his law enforcement spirit. When Ruan (Elyes Gabel), a petty crook caught up in a heist-gone-wrong, shows up in London with serious wounds, the police department, led by Thomas (David Morrissey), recognizes the young man as Jacob’s son, lighting up Max’s interest in pursuing his enemy once again. Partnered with detective, and former lover, Sarah (Andrea Riseborough), Max sets up a trap to catch Jacob, who’s been flushed out of his Icelandic hiding spot, returning to London to retrieve his child. Reconnecting with associate Roy (Peter Mullan), Jacob is forced to deal with Max’s rabid hunt to arrest him, yet the two opposites of the law quickly find themselves teaming up to take down a greater evil in Dean (Johnny Harris), the architect of Ruan’s doom.

“Welcome to the Punch” opens with a heated chase sequence as Max attempts to thwart Jacob’s plan of theft, carried out on motorcycles. We haven’t even met the pair before they’re taking shots at each other, thrust into a tense situation that’s rendered useless due to Creevy’s lack of introductions. Chases ensue and shots are fired, setting up the pair’s future as adversaries, yet for the viewer there’s little to cling to, essentially watching two strangers quarrel over ill-defined concerns. Creevy hopes the intensity of the situation is enough to cover any questions, and with a mighty swing of its prologue, “Welcome to the Punch” is off and running, to nowhere in particular.

When we finally get to know these personalities, it appears they have much to share and not a whole lot of time to do it in. Backstories are breezed through, including the intricate braiding of Thomas and his political position as London grows concerned over gun violence, tying to him an election campaign that never pays off as profoundly as Creevy imagines. There are also hints of a soured affair between Max and Sarah, and a fatigue shared between Jacob and Roy, two old school crooks watching a younger generation of felons crumbled under the weight of their bravado and stupidity. The screenplay seems to be teeming with characterizations and turns of plot, yet Creevy’s directorial impulses push a human touch aside, fixating on frame composition and color grading fetishes, as much of the movie is jacketed by cool, cliche tones that choke the life out of impressively mounted shots. “Welcome to the Punch” has the gas to cook as a corrupt cop/revenge saga, and the film’s thematic interests in degrees of criminality, even in law enforcement, are interesting. Yet, nothing gels here, despite flashes of action and the occasional blip of intrigue.

With McAvoy, Riseborough (I’ve now seen her in four movies in the last month -- not complaining), Strong, and Mullan around, “Welcome to the Punch” never completely fails. The acting is restrained by Creevy’s indecision, yet individuality shine through, and there’s something compelling about McAvoy in supercop mode, delivering an unusually physical performance. While the talent is persuasive, “Welcome to the Punch” doesn’t follow their lead, eventually reaching a banal conclusion that involves pursuit and gunfire around a yard of shipping containers (a woefully formulaic location), working toward a disappointingly anti-climatic ending, possibly suggesting sequels to come. Without the proper groundwork provided for the first outing, there’s little chance Max and Jacob will continue their spat in future adventures. And if a follow-up does happen, perhaps the next round will provide a reason to care.

Starring: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan, Andrea Riseborough, Daniel Mays

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