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These British crime thrillers are beginning to feel like one long, disjointed movie. With a strong cast that includes James McAvoy, Mark Strong and Andrea Riseborough, Welcome to the Punch feels like something Guy Ritchie would have made ten years ago. The film is written and directed by Eran Creevy, who assisted Ritchie protege Matthew Vaughn on Layer Cake, and it spins a web of deception and conspiracy more convoluted than captivating. With a surprisingly pokey pace and underwritten characters, Welcome to the Punch is hard to recommend. McAvoy and Strong give good performances as a wounded detective and the master criminal who shot him, respectively, but decent acting and some stylish camera work can't overcome the film's slipshod narrative.
McAvoy's Det. Max Lewinsky almost took down wanted thief Jacob Sternwood (Strong), but Sternwood shot out Lewinsky's kneecap and escaped at the last second. Several years later, Lewinsky retains the painful mental and physical scars of the altercation and is in danger of losing his job because of his subpar performance. When Sternwood's son, Ruan (Elyes Gabel), is shot by police at the airport, Lewinsky realizes he may be able to lure the illusive Sternwood out of hiding by using Ruan as bait. With the help of his partner, Sarah (Riseborough), and the running-for-re-election police commissioner (David Morrissey), Lewinsky reaches into the criminal underwood to get Sternwood's attention.
The London in Welcome to the Punch is less a foggy bog than a glittering neo-Asia that pulses with seedy excitement when night falls. Although Creevy shoots London like Las Vegas and avoids giving his gangsters Cockney accents, Welcome to the Punch still mimics the gun-and-a-grudge storylines of Vaughn and Ritchie's films. Despite his absence, Sternwood remains connected to the London underground network of high-take robberies and illicit trades and is immediately tipped off by confidante Roy (Peter Mullan) when Lewinsky begins making plays. Sternwood grabs some muscle (Johnny Harris as Dean Warns, a bruiser who loves his grandma) and returns to London. Since getting shot, Lewinsky has obsessed over taking Sternwood down. The police department dumped the Sternwood cock-up on Lewinsky's young, inexperienced shoulders, and he has yet to recover his drive to excel as a detective.
Despite the talented actors, stylish direction and production input from Ridley Scott, Welcome to the Punch fails to build much tension or provide an adequate pay-off for the slow opening act. Both leads are thinly written and motivated only by the blunt, generic catalyst of their previous encounter. McAvoy's character is weighed down by demons not fully explored, and the only emotional beats that hit concern Sternwood's reunion with his son. That the relationship between Lewinsky and Sternwood shifts is forecasted miles out, but the reasons supporting this change are mostly uninteresting. Welcome to the Punch wants to be a smarter, subtler British crime thriller but instead winds up an attractive bore.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is mostly solid but does suffer from limitations tied to its digital source. The main issue? Digital noise, which is especially prevalent in the frequent nighttime scenes. The image is often crawling with this noise, and it can be distracting. Fortunately, the image was not smoothed over in post-production and with the noise comes pleasing detail and texture. Close-ups reveal impressively detailed faces, and wide shots are deep and sharp. Black levels are good and crush is minor and likely also related to the source.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is nicely balanced, and quiet moments are not eclipsed by action-heavy sequences. Dialogue is crisp and clear and nicely layered amid effects and score. Ambient and action effects roll to the surround speakers, and both effects and score receive LFE support. A 2.0 LPCM track is also available, as are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Alongside a standard Making Of (18:17/HD) are a number of Interviews with the cast and crew: Andrea Riseborough (4:30/HD); Daniel Mays (6:07/HD); David Morrissey (5:31/HD); James McAvoy (17:43/HD); Johnny Harris (10:41/HD); Peter Mullan (2:05/HD); and Mark Strong (11:28/HD). You also get the film's Trailer (1:59/HD).
Stylish but sluggish, Welcome to the Punch feels like a bad imitation of more exciting British crime dramas from Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn. James McAvoy and Mark Strong are compelling cop and robber leads, but the film sinks under its thinly written characters and underwhelming plot. Skip It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.