Saturday, January 28, 2017

Welcome to the Punch

   James McAvoy and Mark Strong star in this UK crime thriller about personal vendettas, gun running, and a dangerous conspiracy. If you're like me, you just say "Say no more- I'm sold!" and you've already departed your sofa to go find a copy. However, if you're still reading you're probably not a fanboy of McAvoy and Strong- or at least, not as much as I am. Oddly enough though, it wasn't their names that spurred me to watch the movie when I first saw it. It was the reckless and ill-fitting comparison that some amateur keyboard critic made, likening this movie, to John Woo's Hard Boiled.

Screw that guy.

   What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hard Boiled? Conflicts of loyalty? Long dramatic pauses? Police drama? No. Of course not. You think of shooting, guns, explosions, and all of it in glorious slow motion and meticulously choreographed. So screw that critic for making me think this movie was anything like that. I came into 'Punch expecting a bullet ballet movie, and instead I got all of Woo's more talky offerings instead. So when there wasn't a jazzy car chase, or a massive explosion around every corner, I was disheartened. I couldn't see the movie that was right in front of me, because I was mourning one that didn't exist. (Unless you count Wanted, albeit sans Mark Strong...)

   I'm telling you right now, Welcome to the Punch is a crime thriller first, a character drama second, and an action movie third. It's a well crafted and sleek piece of entertainment, but if you come looking for a relentless shoot em' up, you're likely to be disappointed. Which would be a shame, because both McAvoy and Strong turn in excellent performances. Even if both of their characters have been done to death a thousand times over in the vast cinema pantheon of Michael Manns, Brian De Palmas, and Christopher Nolans- they're still well worth watching. They inhabit their characters with gusto and flair, going for broke whenever they can. It works.

   Strong has the better end of the deal here, playing an enigmatic thief who is lured out of hiding when he discovers that his son is in danger. Strong plays the role with a quiet nobility and a detached curiosity. He seems to study the people around him, observing their emotions and reactions- scanning them like a machine who doesn't quite understand, but is relentlessly curious. As a pitch perfect counterpoint to his coldness, is McAvoy who is at his best playing an absolute screw-up of a cop. Someone who is smart and good at what he does, but gets in his own way. Life has dealt him a shitty hand, and he's never quite sure how to handle it from moment to moment.

   Nevertheless, there is a temper there, and a fire burning behind his intense stare. See, McAvoy and Strong (can't be bothered to remember or google their characters' names) had a brief and violent encounter with each other in the past which ended with McAvoy injured, and Strong getting away- so you can imagine the festering vendetta that's been brewing this whole time. Even more explosive is the realization that they might not be enemies after all- or at least, something worse might be lurking under the details of this sordid plot.

   Bullets do fly, and the movie indulges in framing it's shootouts stylishly- but it's never overkill. Welcome to the Punch has a few standout action scenes, but in a market saturated with a half dozen Fast and Furious sequels, Deadpool, and the like, it's not hard to see why a movie like this would seem underwhelming to those looking for an action fix. Nevetheless, the movie doesn't skimp on it's requisite shootouts, and while they aren't on the level of John Woo, they are beyond competent and perfectly intense in their own right- especially one standout little set piece that's worth buying the blu ray for all by itself.

   In short, Welcome to the Punch is a perfectly serviceable crime thriller that's entertaining despite being a tad overly familiar. It's definitely not the most original work in the genre, but it's populated with enough unique touches and well crafted excitement to warrant a watch. It also doesn't hurt that the cast is absolutely amazing, bringing their A-list chops to a movie that seriously flew under the radar here in the states. It's a shame that it still hasn't gotten a bigger following, it's a seriously decent movie that's easy to watch and easy to recommend.

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