While some might draw a link between this and last year’s retooling of The Sweeney, director Eran Creevy’s sophomore film has very little to do with any other British cops ‘n’ robbers flick you’ve ever seen.
From its disorienting opening shot to the vigorous chase sequence that follows, it’s plain that Welcome To The Punch’s influences lie a lot further east than Bow Bells.
James McAvoy plays against type as loose-canon cop Max, scarred by his failure to bring down the notorious Sternwood (Mark Strong).
Max becomes obsessed with finally completing his unfinished business, but (wouldn’t you know it) there’s a larger conspiracy at work that derails him.
Following up micro-budget gem Shifty, Creevy combines his debut’s lightness of touch and authentic vision of London with beefed-up production values and a dream cast of Brit character actors.
Creevy names Hong Kong duo Andrew Lau and Alan Mak as influences, and it’s their Infernal Affairs trilogy that comes to mind here, with shades of Michael Mann and Tony Scott.
One thing’s for sure: there’s nary a Guy Ritchie-style mockney geezer to be found. But a fictional universe can’t survive on plot alone, and by the halfway point Creevy’s movie begins to feel malnourished.
Max is consumed by his obsession but it doesn’t make for a compelling human centre. Similarly, Andrea Riseborough is weirdly wasted as Max’s hard-nosed colleague who, along with David Morrissey, is the biggest casualty of Creevy’s plot-over-people approach.
Only Mark Strong, mesmerising as the morally complex anti-hero, rises above the writing.
Still, what Punch lacks in character, it makes up for in energy, inspiration and rampant ambition.
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There’s an emotional vacuum at its centre but Welcome To The Punch is an adrenalin shot to the heart of the Brit-crime genre.