It seems that James McAvoy season has definitely begun here in the UK. Every so often it appears as though one actor is in every new film you’re seeing at the cinema. Sometimes it’s great, because they’re fantastic on-screen… other times it’s just jarring as you feel you’re oversaturated by their presence. Back in 2011-12 we had a whole spell where Michael Fassbender seemed to be in absolutely every movie going. We saw a lot of Michael Fassbender. A LOT! The whole package you might say… Anyway, moving away from Fassbender‘s manhood, I’ve never understood why studios decide to schedule all of a certain actor’s movies together. It never works so well for me. Having said all that, how does James McAvoy‘s first movie of 2013 shape up? Well, welcome to Welcome To The Punch…
The oddly titled Welcome To The Punch is a British cop-thriller. The whole thriller vibe seems to be a pretty popular choice for March, with both Broken City and Side Effects dropping in the two weeks previously. The plot here? Essentially, we have our embittered police officer Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) – a guy that has had a vendetta to catch a notorious criminal by the name of Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong); owing in no small part to the fact that when they last met some three years ago, Sternwood decided to shoot Lewinsky in the leg. This injury would plague Lewinsky for the rest of his life and really build up the need for vengeance. But Sternwood goes off the map – he’s a ghost. All of this changes when a series of murders occur in London, where one of the victims is Sternwood’s only son. This brings the big guy back out of hiding and onto Lewinsky’s radar once more.
So it sounds rather simplistic doesn’t it? Good cop wants to hunt down bad villain… but the writing and plot is a lot more clever than you may think. Welcome To The Punch goes to great efforts to humanise its protagonists. McAvoy‘s character isn’t your typical loud mouthed police officer that’s full of confidence. In fact, he’s quite reclusive and harbouring many wounds – both physical and mental. Similarly, Strong‘s Sternwood isn’t your cookie-cutter bad guy. He’s incredibly relatable and is made much more human than your typical movie nasty. It’s a really refreshing take on the genre that I enjoyed immensely.
The film also doesn’t skimp on action. It starts as it means to go on, and bounds along at a frenetic speed. The plot is incredibly well paced and really draws you in to the proceedings. Admittedly, there are some details that are never fully disclosed, such as why Sternwood is seen as the biggest, baddest villain in all of London and how Lewinsky was assigned to his case in the first place, but this can be ignored as it contributes little to the overarching story.
And the calibre of acting? Well, McAvoy‘s off to a good start in “McAvoy Season” here. When he first really appeared on my radar in Wanted, I wasn’t impressed with the guy. Time has changed all this, as I now see him as one of our finest actors. Welcome To The Punch does little to overturn my opinion; he’s on sterling form here and totally sells you his angst, determination and frustrations. This is complimented wonderfully by Mark Strong, a man who’s no stranger to having his “Season” at the box office (appearing in Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass and Robin Hood seemingly at the same time). Strong plays to his strengths here – he’s always an imposing “villain” figure and this is no different. Once again, another engaging performance from one of the leads. As I mentioned earlier, it’s great that these characters have been fully fleshed out and realised so that one can empathise with them at specific moments. I’m a huge fan of this, as it really sets the film apart from the other “police thriller” of the moment, Broken City. In that film, everyone is very one dimensional. Here? Well, that’s definitely not the case.
All of the supporting cast, especially Johnny Harris, Peter Mullan and Andrea Riseborough deserve a mention here too. One scene that’s really stuck with me from later on in the film (above), featuring Harris, Mullan, McAvoy and Strong is simply superb. It’s got tension, humour and a huge “what will happen here” hanging over it. THIS is what thrillers are for. More please!
Welcome To The Punch is that rare beast: a stylistically slick-looking British police thriller. It’s shot, directed and written in such a wonderful way that you can’t help but get wrapped up in the film. Couple this with some extremely strong leads and a genuinely thrilling plot and you’ve got one hell of a film on your hands here. It’s certainly head and shoulders above what the US is churning out as of late. It’s simply a film that you cannot afford to miss if you’re a fan of thrillers that are rich in characterisation.
So where does McAvoy season take us? Well, for The Phage, it’ll be seeing him on stage next week as Macbeth before he then warps back into movie land for his star turn in Danny Boyle‘s Trance the week after. I’m on tenderhooks to see how that particular effort turns out. Can his residency on our screens propel McAvoy into the stratosphere, just as Michael Fassbender‘s stay did? Well, I guess it all depends on whether McAvoy feels like whipping his tackle out for all and sundry to see. It certainly didn’t harm Fassbender. I guess that’s what happens when you’re “endowed” with great acting abilities though.