Three years after criminal mastermind Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) shot detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) in the leg and fled for his hideaway in Iceland, he is forced to return when his son is gunned down and left in critical condition in the hospital. This gives Lewinsky once last chance to get revenge and take Sternwood down for good.
With his follow-up to surprise hit Shifty, writer/director Eran Creevy has delivered an unusually stylish, high-octane British crime thriller. We’re used to tales of British crime cut from the same cloth of cockney gangsters and hardened cops but Welcome to the Punch seeks to prove that it doesn’t always have to be that way.
In that respect it achieves its goal, delivering a slick and glossy tale of obsession and revenge albeit one which sticks rather rigidly to genre conventions. What we then have is a fairly standard issue cops and robbers in the grand scheme of things even as it stands out from the British crime genre crowd. There’s the master criminal with the distinctive look, the obsessed cop practically devoting his life to catching him, corruption, foot chases, shootouts – it pretty much spends its time ticking off the boxes.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing and for what it is it’s a perfectly entertaining 90-odd minutes with some enjoyable performances from a strong British cast; on top of McAvoy and Strong we also have the likes of Andrew Riseborough, Johnny Harris, David Morrissey and Peter Mullan among others. But what could have been a truly memorable crime thriller ends up succumbing to what’s expected of it, eventually feeling the need make a sharp right turn about two thirds of the way through in order to resolve itself with a video game-esque action sequence.
Welcome to the Punch is essentially a British movie dressed up in American clothing. It’s nice to see one that’s more Michael Mann than it is Guy Ritchie – half of the movie is bathed in that Mann-esque blue light – even if that’s where the uniqueness stops. Creevy is clearly a fan of films like Heat, Collateral and some of the Hong Kong action classics like Hard Boiled and The Killer, and that genre enthusiasm is evident on-screen even if it leaves the film feeling rather derivative in places. Ultimately the film does what it says on the tin and there’s enough well crafted style for it to get away with just being that.