The British film industry isn’t exactly known for its extensive catalogue of action cinema, and frankly, that’s a shame. If it’s become something of a cliche that we’re renowned for hashing out stately period pics, grim kitchen sink dramas and Cockney-rhyming gangster flicks, Eran Creevy’s (Shifty) aims to change that.
Slickly lensed with a production quality to rival his Hollywood contemporaries, Creevy just might kick-start a British New Wave of action films with Welcome to the Punch, though one hopes that subsequent entries might put a little more effort into the details.
During an opening heist sequence set in Canary Wharf, Detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) winds up shot in the leg, while his target, elusive thief Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), makes off to Iceland with his loot.
Three years later, Max continues to be haunted by the incident both personally and professionally, prominently affecting his working relationship with his partner, Detective Hawks (Andrea Riseborough). Sternwood has to return to the UK after his son is involved in a botched heist and subsequently hunted down. As Max eyes another chance to catch Sternwood, however, he uncovers something far more sinister that threatens them both, causing the pair to reluctantly team up for the greater good.
For the most part, this is a film better seen than heard; the dialogue is largely rote and forgettable, and it is instead clearly the lavish action sequences that Creevy has committed most of his attention to. The pulsing score propels forward the film’s beautifully filmed set-pieces; incredibly, Creevy has managed to make Canary Wharf resemble a neon-metropolis not unlike Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City or Sam Mendes’ Shanghai.
From the streets of East London to a confined nightclub shootout, the film boasts a whopping four set-pieces in the first half alone to my count; it’s just a shame that everything else has to take a back seat.
Unfortunately, the endless blue hues of the city-scape can’t entirely compensate for the troubling – if expected – dearth of character development, alongside plot strands with few ambitions beyond a bland police procedural. Every beat both big and small can be telegraphed a mile off, and were it not for the spritely gunplay, it would be downright soporific.
Though Creevy shoots the action with an eye that nods to John Woo, it mostly appears in brief, fitful spurts throughout the 100-minute film, while the downtime is as dull as neon-backlit dishwater. The result is a murky mix that occasionally beggars belief, especially in its third act. Amid all this, there’s also a bizarre scene of misplaced humour shoehorned right into the middle of the film that feels like it comes from another film entirely.
That said, one can’t knock the technical precision of the final shootout in particular, and in spite of the tedious narrative, director Creevy clearly has a sure future in the genre, though next time he might want to avoid genre cliches, or alternatively work from someone else’s script.
With a cast this good – including supporting turns from Peter Mullan, David Morrissey and Jason Flemyng, all of whom are totally wasted here – Creevy should aim for a narrative to match his thrilling aesthetic. London’s never looked so good, yet outside of the crackling action scenes, there’s very little on offer.
Welcome to the Punch is in cinemas Friday.
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