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Saturday August 31, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Saturday August 31, 2013 MYT 8:32:24 AM
By DAVIN ARUL
A CITY gripped by escalating gun violence (sound familiar?) is the setting for this gritty Brit cops-and-robbers tale that is stylishly made and gripping enough to help you overlook the fact that its storyline is somewhat shallow – and haphazardly stitched together.
Welcome To The Punch is about all-but-washed-up London detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy), who charged in alone after four slick bank robbers three years ago and ended up getting shot in the knee by their leader, Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), who then escaped.
(It’s quite unusual how London seems so ... abandoned whenever a crime – a high speed chase, a shootout, a guns-blazing getaway – is taking place in this film. This isn’t 28 Nights Later, by any chance?)
In the three years since, Max has become a “nobody” on the force, constantly mocked by his immediate superior Nathan (Daniel Mays) and looked on with something akin to pity by their boss, Geiger (The Walking Dead’s David Morrissey).
Max’s partner Sarah (Andrea Riseborough, Oblivion) tries hard to pick up the slack he is content to generate; she would like to think the two of them make an effective team, if only he wasn’t so obsessed with the night Sternwood got away.
A big break comes Max’s way when Sternwood’s son turns up with a gunshot wound, and the police believe they can exploit the youth’s situation to reel in the fugitive robber. But the case has gone into much deeper waters, with larger fish to be hooked.
The big mystery about what Sternwood’s kid got involved in, obviously a much bigger matter than Max’s drive to bring down the bad guy, would have been easier to get into if the characters – with the exceptions of Sarah on the cops’ side and Jacob’s old pal Roy (Peter Mullan) on the opposite end of the field – weren’t all a self-centred/self-serving bunch of a-holes. This even applies to Max, to a degree, while Sternwood remains an enigma.
It’s not exactly easy to sympathise with most of them, so you may need to focus that much more in order to pay close attention to the dialogue and grasp some of the story elements and puzzle pieces which fly by fairly quickly.
There’s some sort of conspiracy behind the escalating gun violence, one that involves both politicians and crooked cops alongside gun runners and shady tycoons.
But, as the film weaves its way to a violent close, you get the feeling that writer-director Eran Creevy was just tapping it out on his word processor while cast and crew were assembled waiting to shoot the next scene.
What I did like about Welcome To The Punch is that it doesn’t progress the way things might in a typical high-octane Hollywood action flick (even the title bears no particular significance, merely appearing on a sign close to the end).
Sure, the action set-pieces in this one are good enough to match anything from the other side of the Pond, but its main attraction is the way it steers away from movie convention. For example, a character (suspected killer Warns, played by Johnny Harris) who in most action flicks would be just hired muscle, proves to have unexpected dimension; and the romantic undertones between Sarah and Max lead down a decidedly darker road than you’d think.
But the two lead characters lack sufficient room for their characters to be defined. It’s a shame because both McAvoy and Strong are terrific with what little non-action-oriented material they have, the former with his haunted, obsessive gaze and the latter with his demeanour and voice tinged with a sense of regret that’s never explored.
I would have welcomed it if Creevy had trimmed one or two action sequences to explore the Lewinsky-Sternwood dynamic a little more, so that the shift in their relationship that happens toward the end doesn’t seem so arbitrary.
Likewise, a little more room for the Big Conspiracy to breathe after it’s uncorked would have allowed the audience to get a better grasp of all the threads that connect to it, and also accept the way just about everyone who walks into camera view in the last 20 minutes gets implicated in it.
Still, for what it is, Welcome To The Punch is a solidly entertaining action flick – just falling short of the heights that the best hard-boiled crime stories of British cinema have reached.
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Entertainment, movie review, Welcome To The Punch
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