WELCOME TO THE PUNCH (2013) ★★★★
Welcome to the Punch [IMDB]
Directed by Eran Creevy
Starring James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough
Over the last few years there has been a big rise in the number of action-oriented American productions filmed in the UK, from Fast and Furious 6 (2013) to Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015). This is just the latest in the country's many contributions to action cinema, which have also included the James Bond series and work of Vic Armstrong, perhaps the greatest stuntman of all time. However, precious few action films can be called British productions because the UK film industry has traditionally focused on drama and horror films. Recently, British genre cinema seems dominated by a seemingly endless tide of miserable low-budget crime films starring the likes of Danny Dyer and Vinnie Jones.
Up-and-coming British director Eran Creevy sought to change that with his 2013 film Welcome to the Punch. Having had success with the BAFTA-nominated microbudget crime film Shifty, Creevy secured the support of executive producer Ridley Scott and set his sights on something much more ambitious: a London-set action crime film strongly influenced by Hong Kong cinema and the works of Michael Mann. Sadly but perhaps not surprisingly, the film failed to attract all that much attention – but with Creevy's next effort being released this year, it definitely deserves another look.
Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) is a retired high-end thief who returns to London when his son Ruan is shot in a low-level gun deal gone wrong. Waiting for Sternwood is his arch-nemesis Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy), a tortured cop with a score to settle. Sternwood and Lewinsky begin as sworn enemies and gradually realise they must work together against a greater threat – all amid the backdrop of a major crime wave and an impending general election.
Creevy wrote as well as directed the film, and the influence from John Woo's classic heroic bloodshed films is strongly evident. Most notably, the concept of a cop and criminal being forced to work together is right out of The Killer (1989), as is a scene in which Lewinsky images Sternwood's actions during a gunfight and re-enacts them. However, the film's aesthetic is more akin to newer, glossier films: shooting at night on carefully chosen locations, Creevy makes dour London look like gleaming, ultramodern Hong Kong as imagined by Michael Mann. Mann, of course, eventually did shoot in the city on his film Blackhat (2015), but Welcome to the Punch is the better film.
Welcome to the Punch is one of those films which wears its influences on its sleeve, and Creevy has not been shy about admitting his love for Hong Kong cinema and heroic bloodshed in particular. The film overcomes this and succeeds because it has a superb cast (also featuring very capable British actors David Morrissey, Andrea Riseborough and Peter Mullan), great cinematography, and most importantly: it's economical. The film's budget was apparently under $10 million, which barely gets a straight-to-video film made these days, and yet it looks terrific. In fact, one of the strongest scenes was created purely because the intended chase sequence would be too expensive: it's this kind of adaptability that gives Creevy so much potential as a director.
His next film has gone through something of a troubled production: a chase thriller set in Germany, it was originally called Autobahn but is now titled Collide – it's changed distributors and has had its release date pushed back to sometime this Autumn. Joel Silver is producing and the cast includes Nicholas Hoult, Felicity Jones, Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins.
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I write about classic science fiction and occasionally fantasy; I sometimes make maps for Doom II; and I'm a contributor to the videogames site Entertainium, where I regularly review new games.