After helming the ultra low budget and critically praised urban thriller Shifty (2008), BAFTA nominated director Eran Creevy returns with Welcome to the Punch (2013), an explosive action film that sees Creevy depicting London in altogether more sleek and slick parameters than his directorial predecessor. Armed with a bigger budget and the clout of executive producer Ridley Scott, Welcome To the Punch stems from, and indeed owes a debt to, a particularly stylised brand of American action cinema governed by the likes of Michael Mann and Tony Scott, though its bracing energy fails to mask a decidedly limp plot.
The film opens with James McAvoy’s police detective Max Lewinsky desperately pursuing successful career criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) mid-heist across London, a chase that culminates in Max getting shot in the leg. Cut to three years later and Max is haunted by his previous inability to catch Sternwood whilst harbouring a deep obsession with finally tracking him down. Meanwhile, Sternwood – hiding out in a secluded Icelandic cottage – is forced to return to London when his son is fatally wounded in a heist gone wrong.
Padding out the monotony of everyday detective work at the side of Sarah (Andrea Riseborough), Max sees the opportunity to catch and bring to justice his arch nemesis, the phantom whose been looming large over his inability to move on. As events conspire to pit the two adversaries against each other, they begin to uncover a deep conspiracy that both will need to solve together in order to survive. Shot through the lens of cinematographer Ed Wild, who bathes London in a glossy, steely and foreboding sheen (especially in those scenes set at night, the lights of tower blocks flooding the screen), Welcome to the Punch is a good-looking and accessible British crime thriller that’s unfortunately lumbered with an unexciting narrative.
Though McAvoy, Strong and Riseborough – as well as an impressive cast rounded out by Peter Mullan and David Morrissey – are excellent in their variously complexly rendered roles, the film is rarely as thrilling or particularly engaging as the central cat-and-mouse angle would suggest. As a cops and robbers tale painted on the glacial canvas that is London, Creevy has an adroit and impressively snappy way of mapping his characters against such an effective backdrop, yet his screenplay fails at making such ingredients successfully coalesce.
In an interview that can be found on the disc of both the Welcome to the Punch DVD and Blu-ray, Creevy alludes to a wealth of material regarding Strong’s underwritten character and the story as a whole that was cut out in pre-production – material that would have made the finished product ultimately more distinctive and punchy. There certainly seems to have been a better film on the cards here at some stage, though what we get is still a perfectly serviceable, stylish London heist thriller.