Sophomore writer-director Eran Creevy assembles an impressive cast for the completely oblique titled, yet very straightforward thriller Welcome to the Punch. Is this latest British crime thriller book adaptation as impactful as its title would imply?
Undoubtedly, Welcome to the Punch is visually striking. It’s a cool, slick thriller. Aesthetically it looks really good, the chilled color palette creating a vivid, neo-noir look complemented by the very deliberated camera movements and framing.
The plot revolves around two men on either side of the law who’re forced to join forces against a larger conspiracy. James McAvoy, as Max Lewinsky, continues to impress, playing a very vulnerable, human protagonist with an almost questionable obsession with apprehending Mark Strong‘s Jacob Sternwood, an obsession only exacerbated when the latter leaves the former half-handicapped. The film repeatedly reminds you of the tension between them in the form of McAvoy having to drain excess liquid from his knee, he makes it look very uncomfortable.
Mark Strong can do brooding and menacing in his sleep and he does it very well here. Andrea Riseborough, playing McAvoy’s partner, plays her role to a tee, getting plenty to do and for the most part avoids the clichés female thriller characters. Of course, this is a British film so there’s a rich sideshow of character actors who fully commit to their roles with more gusto than most. No one outshines the leads though.
Action scenes are loud and impactful, helped by great sound mixing and editing. Most of them are very intimate, with a second act hotel room shootout between Strong and two goons being a highlight along with a strobing, empty club scene between the two leads. The larger action sequences, an Iceland-set nighttime assault and the shipyard climax, are fine but everything works better on a smaller scale. Nothing is terribly inventive, but it’s coherent and competently executed. However it’s slightly questionable how wildly inaccurate everyone is up until the climactic scene where everyone suddenly develops dead aim.
For all the good these elements do much of it is largely undone by the script. The piece is set up as a mystery thriller but the twist is painfully obvious as early as the first act and therefore starts to feel like a drag, especially when the characters turn out to lack much depth beyond their initial characteristics and the plot itself is terribly trite. There’s really nothing there for Mark Strong’s character beyond caring for his son and the basis for McAvoy’s obsession is murky at best. In truth these relationships and dynamics only work due to the actors, who’re constantly elevating mediocre material.
Final Verdict: More of a slap or a light tap than a full-blown punch, Welcome to the Punch is not an entirely unwelcome Brit thriller with great acting, good visuals, rote plotting and pedestrian dialog. Worth seeing but don’t expect a return to the Guy Ritchie-esque halcyon days.