While a bit harsh, those (somewhat) trusty ratings should convey that Welcome to the Punch falls squarely in the middle on the movie-greatness spectrum (patent pending). A very solid movie. Not brilliant, not terrible. Cliches abound but done well, though this film doesn’t elevate itself to the distinguished class of crime thriller (such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Layer Cake, Snatch, Inside Man, to name a few). Welcome to the Punch hums along at an inoffensive 99 minutes and features the always-capable Mark Strong and James McAvoy. This style and genre of film will not be for everyone, so WttP’s covering of familiar territory of crime-thriller tropes will be met with differing interest. A disappointing box office performance can attest to the uneven nature of the film & fan base. As someone who enjoys tense cop versus criminal action of all kinds, I found this movie quite enjoyable. Plus, I am a sucker for some good British electronic/synth pulse thumping beats.
Should I pay to see it?
Nope. While I found the movie to be a good, tight thriller, this measured movie can be found on a television screen and will likely be a regular on that circuit or it is worth sending for via Netflix (not streaming, not yet…). I love movies like this, and even I won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD. That is not to say the experience watching was not enjoyable. With two strong leads, David “the Governor” Morrisey and a simple but well-wound script, the movie can be quite engrossing if you allow yourself to be sucked in. The movie tosses you right into the action, a storytelling device I always appreciate in such fare. Also, I want to highlight the minimalist opening credits, visually engaging and confusing in its relationship to what follows. It’s neat. The opening scene lights the fuse of what is a slow-burning endgame, building tension with an impressively subtle use of lies, twists and reveals (Of, course, this dramatic thrill gets capped by a nifty fight at the end.) in what could have easily been a lazier, lame-duck cliched film.
The movie doesn’t necessarily break down the walls of the convention but fans of crime-thrillers will appreciate the grace with which new-ish director Evan Creevy deploys his tweaks to the standard cops and robbers drama. Enemies and revenge slip away to unlikely allies. The film has a gorgeous blue-light noir-ish coloring that accented many scenes to me. Additional elements are added ingredients to a typical plot ‘frame,’ so to speak – political gaming, social class and relevance, and recognizing one’s own moral compass – all included smoothly, subtly, where many other films I’ve seen can be more heavy-handed. No one gets a happy ending in this story. Which made the choices made on journey of the characters linger in my mind all the longer – a neat trick.
Could I watch it with a date?
Oh indeed. Welcome to the Punch has a great cast of solid British actors, led by the always-dynamic James McAvoy and Mark Strong. McAvoy has quickly become one of my favorite actors and he delivers a solid performance as the damaged, intensely unhinged detective Max Lewinsky and while he by no means stretches himself, Mark Strong delivers an unsurprisingly rich turn as Lewinsky’s all-but-retired nemesis, Jacob Sternwood. The movie clips along and one cannot fault these two leads for any gripes against the film. The cast, Strong and McAvoy especially draw you in, and if this crime/thriller is a genre you and your fellow date-viewer enjoy, the movie entertains harmlessly. Less heavy on the action until the latter third, the movie does an adequate job establishing not only the two aforementioned leads, but subtly shading the side characters as well to be above-average genre-staples. The movie, again, is nothing revelatory. However Welcome to the Punch does an excellent job (as someone who watches many of these kinds of films) of being more than lazy, cliched fare. I don’t think I would say ‘go and seek this movie out for date night,’ unless someone is obsessed with James McAvoy (which is fine and understandable. He’s delightful.) but there is no reason not to check out this film. The open tosses you right in to the story and action, jarring you as a viewer a bit after the steady intro, and I will continue the metaphor in saying the intro serves to light the fuse on the slow-burning story that follows. To the writer(s)’s credit, though I thought I knew what was going on, I was proven to be small-minded in the larger forces at play.
Could I watch it with my mother?
Certainly. Especially if she likes handsome British men.
The Governor David Morrisey, Mark Strong & James McAvoy are all superb actors in a solid movie, worth checking out regardless of your viewing party. There is really nothing that could potentially make you uncomfortable watching WttP with a parent, unless they are wholly averse to violence. Andrea Riseborough, growing in recognition from Oblivion and her turn in the excellently weird Birdman, does a phenomenal job as McAvoy’s partner after a breakdown and balances his broken-cop energy with zeal. She’s great. The movie explores typical thriller/conspiracy fare, with corruption, seedy underbellies and enemy-of-my-enemy friendships, but also did an interesting job poking a bit further, probing (quietly) some of the socioeconomic issues of Britain and our overall world – and crime within it.
Let me take a few sentences to highlight Mark Strong. No matter the quality of film or role, the man never ceases to amaze me. Strong plays, essentially, variations on the same menacing figure (for the side you root for or otherwise), and continues to do so masterfully. The balance of his characters changes between level of terror and sympathy, but he manages (for me, at least) to pull off every slippery, tortured, henchman, mastermind and any full-on-evil or grey-area role. The man somehow manages to routinely establish bad-guy credentials, whilst still making you curious if not sympathetic to the goings-on that make him that way.
Welcome to the punch was simple fun. A solid script, good (or at least interesting) filmmaking and an excellent cast carry a well-paced story. The twists and turns both feel earned and surprising. The movie is well worth a re-watching and well worth your time should you stumble across the piece online, on screen, or at a reasonably-priced-DVD bin.