“Welcome to the Punch” – An awkward open-handed slap at best…

So, Olympus has fallen in the States. That’s cool and all, but what about us – poor European souls living across the pond? We want to watch some action too, you know. Not always, but every once in a while… and I can’t really wait until mid-April for Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman to give me what is rightfully mine.

I needed my fix now, so I decided I would go and see “Welcome to the Punch”. Nothing would go wrong, now would it? Yet, I have to say, as much as I appreciated the effort, this flick left me in a state of unfulfillment  I feel I’m about to go on a rant, but I promise I’ll make it short(ish). I mean, it’s not a bad movie, not at all. But it’s not great either; far from it. But first things first…

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“Welcome to the Punch” is a British cop thriller about, well, a British cop Max (crispy with a dark twist, James McAvoy) who – back when he was fresh, young and over-ambitious – once let his arrogance get the best of him and, while trying to catch a baddie, Jacob Sternwood, (stone-cold Mark Strong) who had just about pulled a heist of the century, not only allowed him to flee with an obscene amount of cash, but also walked away knee-capped and humiliated by him. Fast-forward a couple years; Max is now a brooding, cynical detective who by enlarge has given up on normal life. Wherever he goes, the shadow of his past failure follows him closely, be it in a form of nasty remarks from his colleagues at the station or as physical pain still present in his injured leg. All of a sudden, Sternwood’s adult son is found shot in the stomach as a result of some shady deal gone wrong and Jacob decides to come back from his refuge in order to see about his family , which gives Max a chance to meet his nemesis once more and settle the score once and for all. What he doesn’t know, however, is that while doing so, he would find himself right in the middle of something much bigger and that his personal vendetta would have to wait a little.

Now, did I mention that I actually like European cinema? That’s because I do. I like how action movies can be made in a way that doesn’t desperately want to be a cheap Hollywood knock-off. And in that regard “Welcome to the Punch” is definitely a good flick. The characters are nicely cut out, the ambiance is dark and shady, the acting is convincing… But sadly, the film lacks severely when it comes to a story. And we all know that a good action flick needs a gripping story-line that bolts you into your seat. Otherwise the film comes across as sloppy and amateurish. And, well, it does…

I don’t want to say here that the script is dumb or anything to that effect, but honestly, a good action movie needs a dose of healthy cliché to look believable. I didn’t mind the over-the-top-I-can-have-a-dark-side-too James McAvoy, because I genuinely like the guy and he actually managed to get me on board with his performance. Even Mark Strong (as Jacob Sternwood) was more or less OK for me with his villain persona of post-face lift Vinnie Jones. It’s the direction where the movie suffered the most, in my opinion. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that Eran Creevy is not the most seasoned of directors. He clearly borrowed a bit from the veterans of the genre, though I found it more pleasurable than irritating. Although his framing and approach at action sequences go down really well and amplify the noir feel of the film, he clearly didn’t have a clue about how to tell the story without losing the plot in the process.

 

It actually takes a bit of thought to come up with a reliable way of selling a story that has at least three different narratives in it, multi-faceted characters, good old cop drama bingo and a vital twist. You can’t just show me things and say that they’re important. It’s a cardinal sin to present me with the clues and commence a monologue that will explain everything. If you need your characters to verbally explain what is going on, then I think you’re not making a good use of the imagery. The viewer needs to figure things out on his own, you know, and it kind of kills all the fun when you point your finger towards the important details. The story quickly turns out to be too convoluted to be paced reasonably and I simply stopped caring after some time. Not that I didn’t follow, far from it. I just didn’t have the time that’s necessary to develop a bond with the protagonists. And whenever the pieces eventually fell into place, the story was too fizzed-out to make a half decent splash. Like I said – sloppy.

Perhaps “Welcome to the Punch” would have made a better TV show than it was a movie. I believe that it takes more skill, than what Eran Creevy had in his toolbox, to pull off a show like this. I’m sorry but he’s no Martin Scorsese and “Welcome to the Punch” is not “The Departed” or “Ronin”. It is, on the other hand, a half-decent action flick. We all know that all the action with no story is not the way to go in this day and age, but going all the way up to ‘all the action and a complex story in one box’ is just as well a recipe for a disaster, and I hold the director responsible for all of this.

“Welcome to the Punch” tried to run before it learned to walk – that’s the nicest way I can call what I think about this movie. While the action is there and the actors are making a real effort, whatever they tried to come up with got shot in the head and splattered unceremoniously on the screen by a story that could have been either a tad simpler or paced a bit slower (there’s nothing wrong with making your movie longer), so that we could see everything we needed to see. Instead, I was told a story about people who told me a story about other people that I didn’t really know or cared about. And that’s just wrong.

Rant over.

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