Welcome To The Punch is an exciting action drama that, whilst not entirely unusual in British cinema, is not perhaps as common a genre as it could be. Although British action cinema is gaining popularity with films such as The Sweeney (2012) showcasing London as an enormously attractive city location, Welcome To The Punch in many ways recalls South East Asian action cinema but with a British perspective, rather than the often necessarily higher budgeted and effects driven Hollywood action output. Whereas the deeply enjoyable The Raid (2012) set its action in Indonesia, Welcome To The Punch retains its location on home soil even if its influences are more notably from Hong Kong film-making – from John Woo to Infernal Affairs (2002) – and more recent South Korean movies. It is predominantly set in London although it includes a brief excursion to Iceland to enhance the multinational big look feel of the piece. Shifty (2009) was director Eran Creevy’s feature debut, a compelling drama made for a minuscule £100,000, funded by Film London’s Microwave scheme. Creevy can now command a significantly bigger budget but the money spent is well used and, importantly, is right up there on screen, something that is clear from the opening shoot-out that introduces the premise and establishes the characters’ relationships, attitudes and physical abilities.
Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) has recently returned to his job as a detective, specialising in heists, having taken some time off. It’s no mean feat because some years previously he narrowly escaped death when an attempt to capture arch villain Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) resulted in a savage shootout against four suited masked armed bikers – which left him disabled but determined. Anxious to settle the score with the elusive robber, he is returning to the case after Jacob’s son Ruan (Elyes Gabel) has ended up in custody. Three years on from the original incident, there’s a possibility that Jacob will reappear to assist his offspring. The stakes are increasingly high as Max is determined to tackle this, even though walking with minimal medical aid is a serious challenge and he has to endure comments from his peers that ‘Catching Sternwood will not affect the past.’ Meanwhile, other interested parties, notably politicians, are beginning to call for the police force to be fully armed in the UK. The consequences of this could be personally significant for Max and his peers as well as having wider implications for society.
A policeman’s lot is not often a happy one in cinema and Welcome to the Punch is a case in point. Personal character motivations clash with political ramifications in a way that is enhanced (as in Infernal Affairs ) by high quality action and complex plotting. This is a film where the strength of the narrative lies not just with the action it portrays (to great effect, incidentally) but also in the way that the lines between good and ill are blurred and strict adherence to the law may need to contrast with ethical flexibility for the characters. Our perceptions of all the protagonists are forced to change as the plot progresses, twisting our expectations. In many ways the balance lies with understanding that sometimes good cops can be bad and that bad people are capable of redemption, but even this is too simplistic an interpretation. Motivation is never that straightforward. What is clear is that corporations and politicians can be irrefutably unpleasant.
With the plot, character, story and action enhanced by a number of nicely shot and designed sequences that feel gritty and have an immediacy to them (removing them from big budget CG or over-editing), Welcome To The Punch is well made entertainment that is also well thought through in a way that acknowledges its predecessors in action cinema but doesn’t replicate them.