Action thrillers are often so uniformly shot that the events of one bleed into the other. It’s difficult to remember what was Die Hard, or Bourne, or James Bond. Welcome to the Punch is distinctive in this regard as it’s shot like a sci-fi/body horror film – lots of blue grading and close focus. It’s an interesting technique and likens the film stylistically to recent Soderbergh offerings like Contagion, The Girlfriend Experience, and Side Effects.
If the trailers make the film seem like a sci-fi, the opening sequence leaves no room for confusion – this is action through and through. There’s suited men in gas masks on motorbikes, and Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) in a fast car chasing them through London. The gas masks and tanks on their backs would suggest that we’re witnessing a terrorist attack, but this is never made explicit – all that matters is that Lewinsky is shot in the knee by Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), a debilitating injury that affects him mentally more than physically. He goes from hero cop to nobody, and burns with rage at being slighted while feeling completely helpless to change anything. His partner Sarah (Andrea Riseborough) is everything that he was before the accident, which only serves to remind him of what he used to be. It’s a spiral that seems like it’ll never end. That is until the murder of a teen, Otis Blake, sends his world into a tailspin. As events progress, Sternwood returns, and he and Lewinsky are forced to work together to fight a greater conspiracy.
There’s a lot wrong with the movie. Just about every role is miscast apart from Sternwood, only because Mark Strong can seemingly play any role with ease. McAvoy is simply unbelievable as the grizzled hero, and Riseborough’s barrow girl personality only just stops short of making Sarah really grating. The role of Dean Warns would have been perfect for Eddie Marsan a few years ago, and Jason Flemyng is criminally underused. Even David Morrissey spends his entire time on screen doing a not very convincing Ringo Starr impression, and chews the scenery of every scene he’s in.
One scene stands out as either brilliant or appalling – the shoot-out at nan’s house. How you feel about it will depend on how willing you are to suspend all disbelief, as the entire scene is pure comedy. Given that nothing prior to the sequence suggests there’s a vein of comedy running through the film, the sudden appearance of a slapstick action sequence is totally bizarre. You’ll either love it, or hate it.
Acting and occasional mis-steps issues aside, the film remains enjoyable. The plotting is complex and occasionally baffling but when the whole scheme is revealed, it’s hard not to feel exhilarated. The unbelievability of the dialogue is cast aside by the formidable action sequences, and while it’s not perfect, it could easily have been much worse.