British films tend to have a certain stereotype associated with them. Bridget Jones’ Diary, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The King’s Speech, there’s a certain ˜Britishness’ that’s expected from UK-made films; that is, if they are to be successful. This says more about the cultural pastiches that circle the globe than the quality of UK films, yet there is certain ˜recipe’ for a successful British film, and it generally involves Hugh Grant and/or Colin Firth, some bumbling awkward British etiquette and perhaps a dodgy cockney accent. We can do those films OK, anything else though (crime, action, comedy etc) is perhaps best left to the professionals. So, it was with a heavy dose of scepticism and caution that I set off to see a British action movie, Welcome to the Punch.
Eran Creevy’s follow up to Shifty, Welcome to the Punch represents a significant shift in focus, to a more ˜mainstream’, all out action thriller. The film tells the story of Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) who as a young Metropolitan Police officer is on the hunt for notorious gangster and all-round bad guy, Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong). The film’s prologue involves a high-speed car/bike chase across and underneath Canary Wharf at night, culminating in a confrontation between the two. Needless to say, the outcome is not pretty, and foregrounds the rest of the movie, set a number of years later. Forced out of hiding, Sternwood returns to London after his son is attacked, which gives Lewinsky another opportunity to capture his obsessive target. With the help of his partner Sarah Hawks (Andrea Riseborough), Lewinsky chases down Sternwood in impressive fashion. However, as the film progresses it is clear that there are larger forces involved, and soon the (usual) tangled web of corruption, double agents and political persuasion unravel. Both Lewinsky and Sternwell find themselves in the middle of this web, which they both need to navigate in order to survive.
In many respects then, it is a standard action thriller, and as such, is fairly predictable (although enjoyably so). However, the style with which Creevy pulls it off is very impressive. The visuals first off are stunning. From the opening scene in a desolate Canary Wharf, London glimmers with a lucid hue that is reminiscent of a Michael Mann film. The character story arcs are well developed, and the acting is (on the whole) extremely convincing. McAvoy, as one would expect, is excellent. The plot, while being fairly predictable has enough about it to keep you engrossed, and the script is perfectly balanced between gravitas, comedy and realism. The scene involving one of the bad guy’s grandmother set in her living room stands out as a fantastic piece of comically-infused but suspenseful action “ creatively shot and brilliantly scripted. The finale to the film is slightly disappointing given what preceded it, but it brings a satisfaction to the story that you cannot help but be extremely impressed by.
Welcome to the Punch is an extremely engrossing, very fun and visually stunning action/conspiracy thriller that blends the best bits of Bourne, Bond, with a sprinkling of Bauer for good measure (I think McClane is hiding in somwhere too). With action scenes that have an almost martial art-style choreography to them, it is easy to spot the Eastern influences in Creevy’s work. The nightclub scene in particular is a fine example of how you can create a tense gunfight with minimal funding and a lot of technical know-how (a homage to the Korean nightclub scene in Collateral perhaps).
Had this film come from Hollywood, it may be considered above average at best, but given that it’s been made in the UK is an amazing testament to the filmmaking skills on show. Indeed, there are very few references to the location at all, and as such the film has a ˜placelessness’ to it that adds to its commercial (and therefore international) appeal (too often UK crime and action films rely on the innate Britishness on show “ think The Sweeney or Snatch). But does it make it a better film? I would argue yes (although it does leave it open for a Hollywood ˜remake’). The well-known difference between American and UK film budgets means that the film uses more ˜creative’ (and therefore unexpected and pleasantly surprising) ways of telling the (albeit familiar) action storyline. As such, you cannot fail to leave the cinema with a heightened sense of satisfaction that at least, good ol’ Blighty can produce a film that takes on the Hollywood genre and beats it at it’s own game.