20 March 2013


Welcome To The Punch is a much better movie than The Sweeney. Set your mind at ease on that score, because although it's another chest-puffing British action thriller, which makes a brave stab at aping its Hollywood counterparts, it's not anywhere near as bad as any Nick Love movie. We could count the ways in which it's better than The Sweeney, but there's little point in protesting too much.

With its cool(?) title and swanky visuals, the film follows obsessive copper Max Lewinsky, as he single-mindedly pursues his criminal nemesis, Jacob Sternwood. He's injured in the line of duty early on in the film, and Sternwood is able to flee the country. Three years later, Sternwood's son is a victim of gun crime, prompting the crime kingpin to return to the UK, and giving Max a second chance to put him behind bars. But there's a larger conspiracy at work, and perhaps the two enemies aren't on opposing sides after all.

Writer-director Eran Creevy's script for Welcome To The Punch featured on the 2010 Brit List, an industry-compiled list of the best unproduced scripts in the land. More than anything, however, it feels like the kind of film David Cameron was talking about, when he stuck his oar in about how the British film industry should back "commercially successful pictures". It's backed up by a stellar cast, certainly, but as usual, there's a conflict between aping the style and story of Hollywood cop movies, (with something of a debt to Eastern cinema too) and the reality of the British police system. Or, as the case may be, the lack of reality.

So, although you have James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan and more, running around a version of London that's been stylised, a la Drive, to look like an American metropolis, they're hobbled by a surprisingly weak script. Hilariously, the other major conflict that arises is that it's really obvious who's going to turn out to be the baddie, and the best that the film can do to avert that is to have this as-yet unrevealed baddie talk to another baddie, alone, as if they don't know each other.

In terms of the crime genre, it's interesting to look at the career of Quentin Tarantino, whose later forays into martial arts movies, war movies and Westerns haven't had nearly the amount of influence on those genres that his earliest works had on the crime genre. This is partly because when Tarantino makes a genre film, he just makes a Tarantino film that happens to have some generic bits and bobs based around its characters and setting. By contrast, many more directors have made crime movies and tried to make a Tarantino movie.

This film isn't a Tarantino pastiche, but it's relevant because the film still commits the cardinal sin of trying and failing to ape the kind of scene that the director has pulled off so brilliantly in the past. Creevy's answer to the La Louisianne scene from Inglourious Basterds may be the best scene in this movie, and it may also involve somebody's nan, but once one of the characters starts monologuing, it unfolds exactly how you might expect. It misses the point, as so many pastiches do, that these intense, contained scenes are never predictable when Tarantino does them.

Given how the best scene in the movie transparently seeks to emulate a style and clearly falls short, there's precious little else to recommend it as a compelling story. It's definitely too complicated, where a narrative in which Max and Sternwood team up against corrupt cops would probably have done just fine. McAvoy gives a decent turn and a convincing Cockney accent, but he's outshone by Strong's Sternwood, whose stoic screen presence is enhanced by virtue of being the only character who doesn't seem to describe exactly what is happening, or what he's feeling, all of the time.

Welcome To The Punch is a very good-looking, well-manned pastiche, which falls apart at the seams as it becomes more convoluted. That's the only reasonable explanation for the ending- maybe the scene that follows the unsatisfying finale simply fell off before they could shoot it. At least it's more cinematic than other efforts, which have come across as puffed-up ITV police dramas, projected even larger on a big screen. But as glossy and well-acted as it is, the wait for a British thriller that manages to be about police, instead of cops that don't really exist in this country, continues unfulfilled.

Welcome To The Punch is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen
Welcome To The Punch, why not share your comments below? Special mention to Jason Flemyng, who's in this for about ten seconds, and deserved better.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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