Friday, April 19, 2013

Welcome to the Punch

WELCOME TO THE PUNCH           C    
USA  Great Britain  (100 mi)  2013  d:  Eran Creevy  

This is exactly the kind of action movie America exports around the world, where popcorn entertainment is seen as a blur of action sequences and no character development, so is there any surprise when one decides to send a movie back in exactly the same style—lesson learned:  this is how to make a lot of money.  While this was made on a measly $8.5 million dollar budget, one can envision this director making Hollywood movies on several hundred million dollar budgets.  In this case, it’s all about non-stop action, which translates to money, and the director’s personal drive and ambition to cash in while he can, as there’s nothing remotely new or original about the movie itself, but it’s designed to resemble the big Hollywood blockbuster by transplanting the Hong Kong action thriller with bullets flying in all directions to a setting in Great Britain.  The film wastes no time, opening with a terrific chase sequence, one angry guy in a car, Detective Inspector Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy), and 4 hooded and masked men in black, like THE MATRIX (1999), driving in formation on motorcycles, where the cyclists get away, but not before one of them is unmasked, Mark Strong as Jacob Sternwood, putting a bullet in Max’s knee, just enough to incapacitate him for the ultimate getaway.  The film jumps forward three years and Max is still fuming over allowing this consummate criminal (who was involved in some kind of heist) to slip through his fingers, where the police department relegates him to a secondary role with his partner, detective Sarah Hawks (Andrea Riseborough), afraid to let him get too close to the action.  We can see his personal life is a mess, his home in shambles, and his knee requires regular injections just to keep active and mobile, but despite his psychological funk, he’s still obviously hampered by the limitations from his shattered leg.  With a muddled narrative that never intends on making things clear, this is a style over substance film, using plenty of computer graphic images of the city illuminated at night, given a very futuristic look. 

While his insightful partner Hawks is aware that Max is distracted, the police are thwarted in an attempt to raid Sternwood’s mountain retreat in Iceland, then after he eludes their grasp, they hope to lure him out of hiding and snare him at the hospital visiting his wounded son, shot under mysterious circumstances.  The entire film is set in a noirish atmosphere of pervasive trouble, where the department itself has gotten itself into the murky waters of a corrupt political election, as the police commissioner (David Morrissey) has acquiesced to a secret deal contracting weapons from a shady British military contractor backing a law and order candidate, none of which is above board.  In fact, the connection to the weapons firm is a shadowy underworld figure, ex-military man Dean Warns (Johnny Harris), whose carefully chosen random acts of violence are designed to create a climate of societal fear that helps the chosen candidate get elected.  Fully unaware of this scheme, Max remains obsessed with the idea that Sternwood is the root of all evil.  Accordingly, he fails to see the unexpected danger that blindsides one of the lead characters, one of the first signs that this movie could be more than it is, as this is one of the better secondary figures, but instead of enlarge the character, no one comes to the rescue, as apparently all are expendable, casting this movie instead into a fatalistic cloud of gloom.  In fact, the body is moved to Max’s apartment to make it appear he’s the killer, which makes him quickly deviate from any intended plan, where this movie quickly takes a choreographic turn into a blitzkrieg assault of non-stop bullets in scene after scene, where Sternwood and Warns are usually in the middle of it, with Max more than a little confused, as his arch enemy Sternwood continues to pull him out of deadly situations, where he’s damned if he (or the audience) can understand why.       

Sternwood’s ace in the hole is his partner in crime Roy (Peter Mullan), another sociopath on the loose that with an automatic weapon in his hands can be put to good use.  This is the extent of character development in this movie, as it’s a brilliant cast, but outside of one extremely British drawing room scene, one with deadly and comical overtones, there are simply no memorable characters, as nearly everyone ends up dead.  But the scene of the film is when a heavily armed Roy, Sternwood, and Max all show up in the living room of Warns’s mother (Ruth Sheen, from Mike Leigh’s staple of actors), who’s convinced these are her son’s old army buddies, so they all sit around the sofa with Mom, nice and cozy sipping tea, so when Warns arrives, everyone’s hiding the gun they have pointed at someone else as they have a pleasant family chat.  This picture of family bliss is of course fractured by another dizzying array of bullets, the same image that punctuates nearly every scene, where the point of it all, one supposes, is to apparently stage unending gunfights, like the Wild West, where the electric synth score by Harry Escott sounds like it was written by John Carpenter, easily the best thing in the film.  If only more *felt* like John Carpenter, who loved and adored his eccentric characters, giving them plenty of room to operate.  But everything here is secondary to the battle of bullets, becoming an endless cliché, where the last man standing feels more like LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997), where a lone gunman seemingly takes on the entire corrupt wing of the police force, which has become an elite army operation of nonstop criminal activities.  In each, the finale feels like total chaos, like there’s no police force left to belong to, as the entire operation is on the take.  McAvoy is good as the constantly befuddled Max, one man against the world, but Mark Strong is better as Sternwood, always focused and under control, whose dominant outlaw presence becomes the moral center of the picture. 

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