By Niall McArdle
The British cop film has gone through quite a few changes since the days of P.C. Dixon of Dock Green
We’ve had corrupt cops (Filth), hard cops (The Sweeney) and very hard cops (Blitz), as well as some very hard villians (Get Carter, The Long Good Friday, etc.) But even with all the possibilities of crime and crime detection depicted, we’ve seldom had a British cop thriller that doesn’t look … domestic. It’s hard to imagine getting too worked up about crime and punishment when coppers are sipping tea in dull grey offices and crooks are sipping tea in mean houses. In other words, it’s difficult to watch a lot of British crime dramas without thinking of this:
Now comes Welcome to the Punch, a sort of British Heat. James McAvoy is an obsessed cop chasing after master thief Mark Strong. It ticks off almost every cliche of the genre you can think of: tormented cop-hero; understanding female partner; bent coppers; worried-looking police captain; professional, very cool master-villain; thuggish henchmen; old-school veteran gangster. It could have been terrible. It’s actually rather good.
The plot seems to be a mixtue of Heat and several Hong Kong crime films. Mark Strong shoots James McAvoy while escaping after a heist. Several years later, Strong’s son is shot in some sort of bungled deal. Strong, now living in Iceland, is lured back to London … and this time, McAvoy is waiting for him.
The story has a few predictable twists, but it does have a couple of nice surprises (including a nicely tense scene in the living room of a nice little old lady). But it should come as no surprise that when Strong and McAvoy finally meet, their mutual antagonism is resolved into mutual respect, and then they end up helping each other. The plot turns on a large shipment of guns and on the frustration that the police feel as they are forced to patrol the streets unarmed. Is the film a plea to arm London coppers?
I think I enjoyed this mostly because it didn’t look like any other British crime drama. Director Eran Creecy and cinematographer Ed Wild have done their homework, which mostly seems to be watching Michael Mann and Ridley Scott films (Scott is also a producer here). Most of the film takes place at night, and the streets and buildings have a sheen. There’s an awful lot of glass and steel and smooth elevators. The police headquarters looks like the inside of a merchant bank. It’s nice to see a London-set film that doesn’t have a stock shot of Westminster, Trafalgar Sqaure or the London Eye.
The story has a complex, twisted plot; I think I would have liked a little more character and a little less plot. Strong is dependable as always. McAvoy overdoes the tortured cop thing a little, and I really think he’d be better served acting in his own accent rather than the odd Cockney he’s given himself here. There’s strong support from Andrea Riseborough, Peter Mullan, Johnny Harris and David Morrissey.
Verdict: Three nice old nans out of five.