I like a good self-serious British action thriller as much as the next guy and “Welcome to the Punch” almost fits the bill. It is written and directed by a fellow named Eran Creevy whose only other credit is a film about a drug dealer being set up by another drug dealer and it’s called “Shifty” which is a good thing because “Welcome to the Punch,” like “Shifty,” is full of shifty types. There are dirty cops, career criminals, and they are played by a fine assemblage of character actors that are really good at embodying those types of people. James McAvoy (star of a film called “Trance” that I’ve never heard of) is Max, a dedicated cop who carries a career-hobbling leg injury. His fellow cops are played by David Morrissey (who we all know we can’t trust by now) and Daniel Mays who tends to alternate between playing bureaucratic cops that you can’t trust or innocent murderers that you inexplicably can. And on the other side of the ledger, we have Mark Strong as Sternwood, a master thief who gave Max his limp when he was nearly arrested three years prior, who comes out of hiding when he finds out that his son was killed in a botched weapons deal that gives way to a larger conspiracy involving the police and politicians. A conspiracy that forces him to team up with Max to bring the culprits down. Sternwood’s partner is played by the phenomenal Peter Mullan, whom you may remember from the Harry Potter franchise or any number of utterly depressing films he has had a hand in (“NEDS,” “Tyrannosaur”). Although Mullan seems to be enjoying himself in the scene where he has his gun trained on an old woman and she doesn’t even notice. Mullan, despite his propensity for playing bad guys, has a warm and inviting face and the kind of brogue that endears him as genial. Despite not looking particularly shopworn he carries himself with a confidence and authority that makes you believe him.
Creevy’s film does a lot with 90 minutes but it does occasionally do something or other with its hand. The larger conspiracy that I detailed briefly has no impact when revealed because the audience doesn’t feel particularly betrayed by any one character nor does the film ever bother to hint that there is something truly bigger afoot. We know there are dirty cops, but the other elements of the conspiracy are never hinted at in dialogue so they don’t matter in the end. If Creevy thought someone would shrug their shoulders at the idea of dirty cops selling guns then imagine how he must feel looking at the finished product and realizing that he botched a pretty damn interesting idea by not only not playing his cards right but by thinking he was a master at legerdemain just because he bought a deck of cards and he was going to tell someone that he had them at some point.
As a director, Creevy has style to spare, has assembled a great cast, and even has a stylish sheen to his pictures that make them easy to endure and pleasant enough to digest but he has some flaws as a storyteller– such as forgetting about facets of the story entirely or not knowing how to utilize slow motion properly (a tense moment is infused with slow motion and hilarity ensues as people fall backwards shooting their guns and a really bombastic score intrudes). I didn’t see “Shifty” so maybe “Welcome to the Punch” is an unfortunate victim of the sophomore slump but for about 70 minutes the film and everyone in it was good enough to know better.
NOTE: My apologies for the movie not being better, I try to recommend things here more often than not, but occasionally despite my complete control I stumble upon a downer. With that said, if you’re a completest of anything you can still give this film a shot.