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Film Review: 'Welcome to the Punch'

★★★☆☆
A degree of pressure has been placed upon director Eran Creevy, as his eagerly awaited second feature follows on from his BAFTA-nominated debut, Shifty (2008). Creevy now returns with a grander budget and bigger cast for Welcome to the Punch (2013), a cat and mouse tale with a twist which follows detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) chasing sought-after criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) across London, in a bid to gain revenge on his old foe. When starting out in law enforcement, Lewinsky had been shot in the leg by notorious criminal Sternwood, and has made it a personal mission to seek vengeance.

Fortuitously, alongside his partner Sarah (Andrea Riseborough), Lewinsky is presented with the perfect opportunity to do just that when Sternwood returns from his Iceland hideaway to visit his severely injured son. The adversaries soon realise they are involved in a greater conspiracy, and may even need to work together in order to both survive.

Welcome to the Punch is, on one level, a cinematic love letter to contemporary London, truly capturing the enchanting nature of the capital at night - particularly in the looming shadows of the City. However, the impulsive Creevy can be accused of occasionally opting for style over substance during certain points in the film. A key example is a presumably 'humorous' scene at the villainous Dean Warns' (Johnny Harris) grandmother's house - a potentially brilliant set-up that features McAvoy, Strong and even Brit-grit icon Peter Mullan. Unfortunately, the entire set-piece is let down by a distracting, overly stylised directorial approach, which reoccurs on more than one occasion during the film's 99-minute runtime - much to its detriment.

But what about the good? The performances of McAvoy and the criminally underrated Strong are impressive, with the pair fortunate to be playing interesting characters. Seeing Lewinsky shot in the leg during the film's opening provides our protagonist with an immediate vulnerability, enhanced by the fact he has to limp throughout the rest of the movie. In addition, the fact that Sternwood decides against killing the detective gives him a sense of humility, provoking our sympathy to a certain extent.

Welcome to the Punch does suffer from being too intricate in parts, and it's a struggle on occasion to remember exactly who is a part of the conspiracy (and who isn't). Of course, the very point is that we are supposed to piece it all together, yet the lack of clarity can be off-putting. Nevertheless, the audience are provided with a clever and intriguing story, and though Creevy may not have been considered for any BAFTA recognition this time around, his sophomore feature continues the steady rise of a clear, emerging talent.

Stefan Pape

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