Few British actors can lay claim to the kind of performance which we have come to expect and appreciate from Paddy Considine. Journeyman, which Considine writes, directs and stars in as champion boxer Matty Burton, is further proof of his impressive versatility.
Six years on from the near unanimous praise for his directorial debut Tyrannosaur, Considine comes to the London Film Festival with this worthy entry in the Love strand of the programme. As whilst his sophomore feature tells of a fighter’s road to recovery after a serious head injury suffered in the wake of a bout, more important here is the adoration he shows for the two women in his life, wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and daughter Mia, who render him entirely defenceless.
For all the tough talk, put downs, training montages and brutal close-up footage of the big title defence match against a much younger man which drastically alters the course of his life, there is a fragility and tenderness to the character of Matty which we don’t often see in movies that concentrate on this most macho of sports. A devoted father, enamoured of his little girl, the suggestion that he is over the hill does little to dissuade the middleweight boxer from undertaking the fabled ‘last fight’. But upon arriving home, a searing pain leaves Matty prostrate and unconscious. The exact nature of what occurs to him is not elaborated on but we can fill in the blanks; a circular scar on one temple leaves the tell-tale sign of an operation after serious head trauma.
The change in Considine’s speech, mannerisms and entire being is extraordinary. From a chatty, cheeky and lively character returns a shell of a man whose laboured movement, mumbled speech and confusion at all elements of daily life and those around him are as moving as they are difficult to comprehend. It would appear there is no direct anti-boxing agenda here but a later scene in which Matty visits his training gym and is left terrified after a few hits on pads to train a younger man subtly shows both the up and coming talent and appetite for the sport and its potentially crippling consequences without making the inherent dangers explicit. As for Considine, we expect much of Whittaker now and her performance does not disappoint.
As those in Matty’s corner fall quickly by the wayside, she is left to effectively raise two children and after more than one violent outburst leaves her petrified of what her husband has become her patience can take no more. The determined training and rehabilitation which Matty undertakes to win his family back goes to show just what a driving motivation our loved ones can be in a fight to triumph over adversity. As Journeyman rounds its final corner, moving to an uncertain conclusion, many may shed a tear at this heartfelt drama.