Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: "Welcome to the Punch"

Director: Eran Creevy
Runtime: 99 minutes

Lean and stylish, yet ultimately hindered by mundane writing, Eran Creevy's Welcome to the Punch is the latest in a long line of similarly-themed British crime thrillers. Creevy's sophomore directorial effort has a strong cast and a nice, understated energy. However, it hits far too many familiar beats as it attempts to increase the complexity of its plot. At best, Punch is a showcase for Creevy as a director, even as it makes it painfully clear how much progress Creevy needs to make as a writer.

Opening with a nicely handled chase sequence, we're introduced to hotheaded cop Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy, cast refreshingly against type) as he tries to thwart a massive heist led by Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong). Yet Sternwood escapes, and Lewinsky is badly wounded. Three years later, Sternwood returns from his exile in Iceland after the mysterious death of his son. As Lewinsky seeks revenge on the man who ruined his career, both men find themselves gradually uncovering a deeper conspiracy in the London police force. 

Right off of the bat, Welcome to the Punch moves with an elegant and controlled momentum. Creevy's dialogue in the early stretches is often sparse, but packs a few nice exchanges (mostly between McAvoy and co-star Andrea Riseborough as a fellow cop). On the opposite side of the story, Strong anchors his scenes effortlessly. When the two male leads face off, it's usually Strong who commands the screen, as solid as McAvoy is in such a different role. Supporting roles, namely those played by Riseborough and Peter Mullan, are also well handled, and lend the film a sense of polish that often transcends the limitations of the screenplay. 

Yet, as is typical with narratives of this strain, the film starts to stumble once the plot becomes more complicated. Creevy's navigation through the various and sundry forces on both sides of the law eventually grow muddled and simplistic, and undercut the more tightly-plotted opening reels. By the time the end credits begin, Welcome to the Punch is already starting fade. It has little more to offer than visuals flooded with shades of blue, and some efficient, stylishly-handled shoot-outs. Even the action, however, becomes a bit numbing in the final act. One late-in-the-game sequence, which builds terrifically, ends with so much slow-motion and Inception-esque BRRMs that it borders on self-parody. 

These two sides of the film clash more and more, and prevent Welcome to the Punch from even being a satisfying and straightforward action-thriller. The efforts of the cast and Creevy (as director), are ultimately squandered on material that is too shallow for its own good. Still, the film does mark Creevy as a talent to watch behind the camera. His sense of style is mostly successful here, and he gets solid work out of his cast, even as they're let down by his writing. But there's a difference between potential and execution, and Welcome to the Punch showcases too much of the former, and not enough of the latter, to be worth the time unless you're getting it in the mail from Netflix and have time to kill.

Grade: C+/C

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