Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Eran Creevy's WELCOME TO THE PUNCH proves tops in action and visual panache

It's also got one hell of a humorous hostage-who-doesn't-know-it scene. As for plot, logistics and who's doing what to whom and why, the new movie WELCOME TO THE PUNCH leaves a little to be desired. Yet TrustMovies was so taken, from the film's first moment, with its gorgeous and mysterious visuals that he has to recommend this one for its thrilling design sense alone. It has been quite awhile since any British movie impressed me this thoroughly via its visuals.

As written and directed by Eran Creevy (of Shifty fame, which I have not yet seen), this movie is so f-ing beautiful to view -- just get a load of the opening credit sequence alone, with its shifting vertical lines and accompanying rhythm, music and color scheme: a designer's dream! -- that if your taste runs at all similar to mine, you'll be hooked. This credit sequence leads into a crack action set piece that is equally gorgeous to view, in which a crew of oddly-masked fellows (below) heist one of those glam new offices towers as we watch, nervous but enthralled.

What they're up to and why is less important than what happens to the lone law officer -- a slightly out-of-his-element James McAvoy, below, making here his third bid for action stardom (another good actor, Jeremy Renner, has fared better at this, perhaps because he was not so early typecast as Mr. Sensitive) -- who's trying his best to apprehend this crew and their slippery leader.

That leader is played by Mark Strong, below, an actor who excels in every role he tackles, though he is usually relegated to second string. It is particularly pleasant to see him excelling once again -- but in a co-starring role. As Jacob Sternwood, one of those "bad guys" we come to love and root for, Strong brings strength and a just-concealed decency, even a little sensitivity, to the role.

McAvoy, on the other hand, is a straight-ahead professional good guy, and he's a little too single-minded and boring, as even his co-worker/maybe-paramour, played by the up-and-coming Andrea Riseborough (below) must admit.

What is this "punch" that welcome us? It's all part of the very twisty and full-of-betrayal plot that unfurls -- one might even say unhinges -- as the movie leaps along. A confederate of mine who did not enjoy the film as much as I noted comparisons to the recent Korean movie New World, and indeed there are some. This one has a smaller cast and budget, with which it does as much visually and emotionally as its Korean counterpart. But the ins and outs of who's with who and why are a tad foggy.

Involved here are everyone from politicians to media to police to gangsters (that's David Morrissey, above, left), and the coalescing of power among these groups might be frightening -- if we chose to believe that such a thing could ever happen. But politicians and media conspiring? Impossible! And police doing the same with a criminal element? And then all four on the same track? Please! No self-respecting American Republican or British Liberal, for whom day is night and black white, would possibly countenance that such a thing could exist. (Mind you: Not that the Democrats and Labour Party are all that much better.)

Among the good bad guys are the always exceptional Peter Mullan (above), who with Strong, Johnny Harris and the delightful Ruth Sheen, handle that hostage scene toward the finale with sublime aplomb. (Some of the lights of current British film, theatre and TV are on display here -- yet another reason to seek out the film.)

As Brit crime films go, this one's head and shoulders above that recently-released example, The Sweeney. Despite some holes (or maybe my being unable to keep up with it all), Welcome to the Punch held my attention, first to last, with its finale simply screaming for a sequel. I'll be there if they make one.

The movie, from IFC Films and running 99 minutes, opens tomor-row, Wednesday, March 27, in New York City at the IFC Center. Elsewhere? I don't know, but it will be available via IFC's VOD program and digital download, beginning this Saturday, March 30.

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