Welcome to the Punch
You can understand why, making comparisons with Michael Mann and Tony Scott before a film is seen sets the bar high for the film but then the cover shot for the film does look a little Collateral in style and the cast list carries great British names such as James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan, Jason Flemyng, Daniel Mays and more. With that mix of talent, with the backing from Scott Free and the fact that the film has sold all over the world, perhaps they weren't wrong.
The opening scenes confirm that this is very much in the style of a Michael Mann heist thriller. There is plenty of style in just about each and every shot and the cinematography is really strong, even without taking into account the scale of the production it feels like a high-end Hollywood action thriller from the beginning. What's especially surprising is that this carries through almost the entire film from opening to closing shot.
The chase sequence that begins it all wasn't just style over substance either; you can clearly tell that there has been a lot of thought and imagination in planning out the entire sequence as well as the individual shots. It was great to see that same quality held for the entirety of the film as so many strong looking thrillers these days concentrate on the opening and the closing of the film. This is something that the director referred to before the screening began, saying that for every single shot they thought what would Tony Scott do?
Looking at the tones and the lighting it is definitely Mann influenced more than anything else except for the one sequence in the granny's house. This is where comedy comes to the fore and we have some genuine laugh out loud moments. At this point it feels much more True Romance and Scott-like although I didn't think the scene worked that well in context with the rest of the film.
The fast zoom to James McAvoy's face was where it started failing for me and the following fast pans between characters as they spoke each line just pushed my attention towards watching the camera. It did quickly return to strength with the slow motion scene which followed and as soon as were outside the house scene we were back in the realms of the Mann style.
To be fair that scene stood out from the rest of the film for good reasons as well as bad. For the most part we're watching a slick crime thriller but for one scene it turns into a Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels kind of film. While the camera work could have been toned down the comedy does offer a break in the tension and still delivers important aspects of the story, and in fact it's the one scene where we receive more than the average explanatory dialogue.
The comedy moments are indeed funny but they aren't just confined to this sequence and there are funny moments throughout the film but elsewhere they are much more in context with the characters and the story. The set-up with the granny is funny but it's when the scene starts to get back in context in the closing moments between Mark Strong and Peter Mullan that we get the funniest moment and it brought loud laughter from the audience.
The slow motion gunfight at the end of this sequence throws us back into the style of the rest of the film and it isn't long before it's right back on track and this sidestep is forgotten. I've seen so many films which kick off with a strong style but start to lose it as the film progresses. With Welcome to the Punch the director, cinematographer and team have poured over every shot and ensured the style is glued to the film. This isn't a half hearted attempt and we end up getting a film that does live up to the hype and looks as good as a Michael Mann or Tony Scott film.
As an added bonus Welcome to the Punch is also a very good thriller, one that carries an interesting story that mixes politics, crime gangs and police corruption. It keeps the pressure on from quite early on and you can see the inspiration coming from Far Eastern thrillers as well as the Western influences.
It builds a good, strong bad guy in Jacob Sternwood with excellent casting in the form of Mark Strong, a powerful actor, a powerful presence and a perfect bad guy. His character has a strong sense of the non-traditional as does his counterpart good guy Max Lewinsky played by James McAvoy. I enjoyed how these two characters were created and evolved with the opening scenes clearly cementing their places and setting up their relationship. Even then it doesn't follow the expected route with the good guy of McAvoy coming away with a strange injury that plagues him throughout the film and the attitude he carries when we return to his story after some time has passed. I was surprised to find the choice the character had made after this time leap, when we see him originally it does seem as though he's incredibly driven and possibly obsessed with capturing Sternwood but when he returns he's mentally defeated and steps back from any confrontation even internally. Now that's not a standard character choice and the film is all the better for it.
It's clever at this point the way the other characters in the team react and how his partner works to push him forward into the limelight, trying to get him to step up again. His character has been written really well and is interesting to watch develop. That hangs true for his counterpart Sternwood, he doesn't have so much development in him though, it's the relationship between the two where the writing kicks in for him. There are a number of key scenes, scenes I won't go into in detail, where an understanding passes between the two. One is about the leg problem that Lewinsky carries and the other about being forced to work together during the first big shoot-out scene.
Here we see some very strong writing and direction with there being a favour towards letting the exchange happen through the characters looks and their own understanding rather some voice over or explanatory dialogue that only serves to over explain things to the audience. The film does this in a number of places, rather than turning to dialogue it leaves the characters and actors to get things across to the audience. Again this is another intelligent and adult film-making choice, and once more it takes the film up a step.
There are many more strong moments that let the characters and actors do the work. This also allows the film to carry some strong pacing and push the story forward. One of the sections where this is shown at its best is where the two characters realise they have to work together and do just that, they reluctantly join up and just get things done rather than with bags of dialogue.
This strength and confidence in the characters and story is revisited much later when the two of them have their face-off moment. The audience gather their understanding of what is happening without the characters in any great exchange; rather it's in their faces and their actions. The film knows that this is between the two of them and not the audience.
This is followed by a great ending scene for Strong as Sternwood that does play to the strengths of the film and suggests an open-ended story without having to build a traditional potential sequel moment, again it just leaves the impression rather than spelling it all out for you.
I think for me it is Strong that steals the film with his powerful performance, you just have to watch his scene when he sees his son to see him devour the screen, his demeanour and reactions are just fantastic and you completely believe in him. It's one of the most powerful moments of the film.
McAvoy is strong too and delivers a great performance, and there's an excellent supporting cast behind the two leads from people such as Andrea Riseborough, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan, Jason Flemyng, Daniel Mays and more.
I've been talking about the strengths of the film but there are some weaknesses too. There are some times in the film where I was scratching my head such as when no one misses the policewoman or the obvious owner of the face in the darkened hotel room, although to be fair it actually plays out pretty quickly and it's clear it wasn't meant to be a big secret. There are also some questions I had around some of the characters popping in and out of the story and the whole political corruption thread which seemed like it had much more to it than we saw especially for the characters that were involved with it behind the scenes.
Welcome to the Punch is a superb action thriller that has an excellent script to back up the cinematography and visuals which on their own are reason enough to go and see the film. Writer and director Eran Creevy and cinematographer Ed Wild have kept the quality of the look and feel high from beginning to end, making it look like it had a huge budget and carrying heavy comparison to a Michael Mann film. They've done an amazing job and the film does look fantastic in almost every shot.
It's not just the style of the film as the writing is responsible for delivering the excellent thriller and the script allows the great British cast to use their skills to deliver some strong scenes and character moments. James McAvoy is good but its Mark Strong that has the best character to play and provides us with some of the most powerful scenes.
I never really gave much credence to the "produced by" title of films, mainly because those producers tend not to be the main ingredient in the film and the marketing requires the big name to be pushed forward because there's often not much else to promote. However here I do feel it's quite the mistake, there's a superb cast here, a wonderful style and a very strong thriller, there's not much to fail to market.
Saying that credit needs to be given to Scott Free for giving Creevy and everyone behind this film the backing to push the quality of the script and the film forward. For without that I wonder if they could have achieved that cast list or the visual style which is slick and reminiscent of some of the great action thriller directors.
Welcome to the Punch delivers on multiple levels, while there is a great visual style it hasn't fallen short in the writing or the direction, and with an excellent cast of actors the performances are delivered too. This is a superb British film and a very strong thriller that you need to go and see.