Welcome to the Punch

Stylish but generic, mildly miscast thriller with a ludicrous conspiracy angle.

Released in 2013, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 27 Apr 2013 by Scott Morris
Welcome to the Punch image

Sometimes it's nice not to be lead astray by trailers. It's difficult to come away from the promotional materials issued for Welcome to the Punch without the feeling that this is a rather generic thriller, albeit with a decent cast attached to it that I typically like. That is exactly what the Welcome to the Punch delivers, although it's difficult not to want more from it. Or indeed expect more from it, given that for a while it was lauded as one of Britain's best then-unproduced screenplays.

Perhaps the biggest surprise that Welcome to the Punch holds, then, is that the script, or the iteration that's found it's way on screen at any rate, is the weakest aspect of the film by a long chalk. The film kicks off with firey young detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) in hot pursuit of master criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), who along with his gang are making a getaway with a vast sum of cast from some heist or other. After ill-advisedly trying to solo this instance, Max takes a bullet to the knee as Sternwood slips through his fingers.

Time passes, and we rejoin Max who has, understandably, developed a bitter, unmotivated, cynical cop persona more fitting of a man twice his age. His partner Sarah Hawks (Andrea Riseborough) seems to have more of the go-getting attitude that Max used to display, although it seems that Max's morning ritual of draining fluid from his knee also drains his enthusiasm for the job.

He perks up somewhat when Ruan Sternwood, Jacob's son is picked up at an airport, bleeding critically from a bullet wound. Tracing a phone call from Jacob to Ruan is enough to lead us to his Icelandic woodland cabin hideout, and also apparently for the Met to get a SWAT team out there to round him up. Interpol, presumably, although wisely the film doesn't get too bogged down in juristrictional debates. This renewed focus on Max's old nemesis is enough to ignite a spark of interest, at least enough to explain why the current approach won't work and an opportunity to say I told you so when it doesn't.

Still, it looks like they'll get another crack at Jacob, as he heads to London to investigate what his son got mixed up in, and why he was shot, aided by former 'colleague' turned respectable businessman Roy Edwards (Peter Mullan). Well, I say respectable , he seems to run a car dealership, which in terms of trustworthiness is up there with politicians and pickpockets.

Max intends to use Ruan and his hospitalisation as a trap for Jacob, but also needs to uncover who's got it in for Sterwood Jnr. Tugging on the leads points both to a larger conspiracy, and after the conspirators attempt, but fail, to kill two birds with one stone in a nightclub shootout Max and Jacob must reluctantly put their differences aside to unite against a common foe, and shine a light on what's going on.

Now, there's a plot device I'm entirely unfamiliar with! What a revelation, etc. Now, to be fair, it's executing on the conspiracy details well enough that I'd give that a pass, if the conspiracy wasn't so ridiculous, risky, and completely unlikely to achieve its aims. Oh, and the ex-British Army mercenary hired to take on Max and Jacob, Dean Warns (Johnny Harris) looks so similar to Eddie Marsan (bearded edition ) that I'm convinced that the real conspiracy here is the existence of an Eddie Marsan cloning facility.

I'd sat down to write this a few weeks after viewing it, and was quite surprised to find it lingering near the bottom of my big, roughly sorted by enjoyment list of films I've seen this year, what I done keep to aid my useless memory for the year-end "best of" lists. I don't now recall it being so bad, although admittedly I barely recall the details of it.

McAvoy and Strong are both likeable actors, and both put in entirely respectable turns, albeit for most of the film you can't shake the feeling that McAvoy's attitude matches better with a much older actor. The supporting cast are also entirely reasonable, Peter Mullan in particular stands out, providing moments of great comic relief without sacrificing the character's edge. It's all handled in a reasonably stylish way, but the critical weakness is a script that's never far away from from throwing another cliché at you.

Welcome to the Punch is largely adequate in most respects, but in the relatively few instances where it fails, there's not much on the other side of the equation to balance the books. For the sake of avoiding spoilers I can't reveal much about this conspiracy, I think it suffices to say that it is very stupid indeed, and when revealed it does rather bring into question how much time you've wasted watching it unfold.

If my increasingly addled memory serves, I believe the thing that annoyed me most about the movie's premise was that of a London seemingly besieged by crime, gang violence and firearm offences, without which the central premise of the conspiracy rings completely hollow. Unfortunately for Welcome to the Punch, this version of London exists only in the pages of the Daily Mail and in Harry Brown, and provides yet another threat to the whole suspension of disbelief thing.

From a distance, then, it seems that the annoyances of Welcome to the Punch fade with time, leaving behind a memory of an unremarkable, marginally below average film that's not worth your time or attention. Which isn't much better, I suppose. Ah well.

Eran Creevy
Cast list:
James McAvoy (Max Lewinsky)
Mark Strong (Jacob Sternwood)
Andrea Riseborough (Sarah Hawks)
Elyes Gabel (Ruan Sternwood)
Peter Mullan (Roy Edwards)
David Morrissey (Thomas Geiger)
Daniel Mays (Nathan Bartnick)
Johnny Harris (Dean Warns)
Jason Flemyng (Harvey Crown)