James McAvoy and London in WELCOME TO THE PUNCH (Chris Raphael/IFC Films)

James McAvoy and London in WELCOME TO THE PUNCH (Chris Raphael/IFC Films)

Written & Directed by Eran Creevy
Produced by Rory Aitken & Ben Pugh
Released by IFC Films
UK. 99 min. Not rated
With James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, Peter Mullan, David Morrissey, Jason Flemyng & Ruth Sheen

Welcome to the Punch is British director Eran Creevy’s follow up to his award-winning debut Shifty (2008), about the rivalry between London crack cocaine dealers. Creevy returns with an A-list British cast and an inflated budget, executive produced by Ridley Scott. In contrast to the semi-autobiographical, character driven social-realism that gave Shifty such authenticity, Welcome to the Punch, is a glossy Hong Kong-style crime thriller set among the steel and glass of London’s financial district.

After Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) is shot pursuing armed robbers led by Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), his life and career change forever. While career criminal Sternwood escapes, hiding out in Iceland, Lewinsky is left with a shattered leg, a permanent limp, and a stain on his record. When Sternwood’s son is critically injured in a botched London robbery, the father returns to hunt down the culprit. Meanwhile, disgraced detective Lewinsky sets out to bring Sternwood to justice and rescue his own reputation, but while he pursues his vendetta, a deeper conspiracy is revealed that both the hunter and the hunted need to solve in order to survive.

Cold and calculating, Mark Strong owns the film as Sternwood. James McAvoy, cast against type, is tense and restless, and Andrea Riseborough plays his strong and outspoken partner. But their characters have little space to develop amid the action, so the movie feels like watching a collision of cyphers.

It is noteworthy that Creevy did not repeat himself but instead went for a bold urban thriller. Shot in steely greys with high contrast, London has never looked so glossy. Aerial shots of the city give a timeless yet futuristic feel reminiscent of the executive producer’s Blade Runner. Made on a comparatively low budget, the film has ambitions to be something much bigger, and has drawn comparisons to Michael Mann’s Heat. While the film is largely shot at night or in low light with its fair share of rain soaked scenes, the plot is too familiar and lacks tension.

With a sound understanding of genre from a childhood spent in his stepfather’s video store and a bold aesthetic honed in commercials and music videos, Creevy is a talented director, but the film’s high-octane action opts for style over content. It will be interesting to see if he can marry the character strengths of Shifty and the gloss of Welcome to the Punch in his third feature, Autobahn, an action-chase film set on a German motorway, already in production.