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Welcome to the Punch (15)
Cineworld, O2
12th March 2013

★★★☆☆

If it looks like The Sweeney and sounds like The Sweeney, surely it's The Sweeney - or at least, as good as? Writer and director Eran Creevy's second offering, Welcome To Punch does indeed start the same way, with a dangerous gang of criminals doing bad stuff in Canary Wharf, to a backdrop of synth-y thriller music. But he can't quite keep up this level of tension and it doesn't take long for the audience to twig that whilst there may be some similar elements to Creevey's cops and robbers tale, it's just not as polished.

The plot revolves around gun crime, so unsurprisingly, there are a lot of action shots. The violence is more understated than a lot of recent action blockbusters, but it's more difficult to follow. Cinematographer Ed Wild seems to have instructed the blokes shooting it to jiggle their cameras as much as they can, in an attempt to make things more exciting. It doesn't pay off though, and is frankly irritating at times.

Possibly this distracting technique has to do with the strict filming restrictions in this part of London, and the impossibility of waving real guns around the Wharf, but Creevy doesn't compensate for that by showing off the scenery. We miss the sprawling panning establishing shots of Canary Wharf that The Sweeney used to ram home the message that we were watching a Britflick - the streets that run between Cabot Square and Canada Square are fairly reflective of the area's cold, business-like appearance, but their footage isn't as iconic. Even the opening credits for The Apprentice take better advantage.

But back to the plot. James McAvoy plays the lead, broody snarly cop Max Lewinsky, who has been harbouring a grudge against professional criminal Jacob Sternwood (career villain Mark Strong) since he shot him at the start of the film, and let him live to face his co-workers' disapproval. Also in broody-snarly mode, we have Max's partner, Sarah Hawks (Andrea Riseborough). It's a delicious cast list of exceptional players, but again let down by poor writing. Initially Hawks seems like she might have enough layers to be interesting, but Creevey imitates one of the weaker aspects of The Sweeney (the constant comparisons are inevitable) by underwriting the female lead.

As usual, Mark Strong lives up to his name by out-acting his co-stars and delivering one of the better performances. Rather than the moustache-twirling Sinestro in Green Lantern, or Sherlock Holmes' Lord Blackwood, he channels the greatness of Our Friends in the North, creating a cool, measured and great baddie. The woefully under-recognised Ruth Sheen also makes a brief, but welcome appearance as the nan of one of the other bad guys, injecting a much needed bit of comedy to the proceedings.

In their pursuit of Jacob, Max and Sarah are caught up in other undercover battles and ultimately, Max finds himself having to decide between trusting his greatest enemy and letting an even worst threat go unpunished. It's not a bad concept, but we don't really connect with any of the characters - in Broken City, we empathised a lot more with Mark Wahlberg's Billy Taggart - and this makes the film a purely visual journey, rather than an emotional one. At the risk of making a pun, but when has that ever stopped us, making the characters a tiny bit more likeable would have given this film the punch it needs.

The question of whether the police need more weaponry to tackle gun crime and when the line between conviction and obsession is crossed are however interesting enough to hold our attention. We don't necessarily get a conclusion to either, but the underlying issues being debated are enough to lend some meat to the story arc.

Creevy still has some way to go, but for his second foray behind the camera, don't get us wrong, we are impressed. We're not ready to rave about him just yet, but we are hoping one day we will be.

Welcome To The Punch was released in the UK on 15th March 2013.

Nearest tube station: North Greenwich for the O2 (Jubilee)



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