Starring: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Popplewell, Anthony Welsh
Directed by: Paddy Considine
Running time: 97 minutes
Does the world really need yet another boxing movie? Yet another tale of redemption, with a plucky outsider who has little chance of winning, discovering his mojo through meeting the right partner, turning around his life, punching sides of venison at dawn and lifting the belt in a blaze of glory? No, of course it doesn’t – I’m looking at you Stallone with your countless, increasingly ludicrous Rocky films, but as films like The Fighter showed, there is some life in the old puncher yet.
And this is Paddy Considine we’re talking about here. Now approaching something like national treasure status, Considine has almost become a by-word for gritty authenticity, an actor who never cheats, never uses tricks and always seeks that most elusive quality in films – honesty.
In his directorial debut, Tyrannosaur, he gave us the raw story of an abused woman, the great Olivia Coleman, and her desperate struggle to be free of her husband – which could have ended with her running off into the sunset with Peter Mullan, but instead had a much darker fate. Here he tackles the much-imitated boxing movie, but at least tries to do something fresh with it, all the time ensuring there is not a note out of place.
He starts by completely reversing the usual sequence of events, by actually starting his story with the big fight. We learn in the trash-talk pre-fight press conference that he won his world title when his opponent retired injured, and brash young contender Anthony Welsh is only too happy to remind him of that, promising the fight is going to be life-changing. It is, but not in the way either fighter realises. After some well-shot scenes of Considine running through the woods (I suspect the budget here is tiny), and struggling to make the weight, he kisses wife Jodie Whittaker and baby daughter Mia goodbye, then it’s into the fight scenes.
Raging Bull set the standard for boxing on film, getting right into the ring with the sweat, blood and rippling skin very evident, and Considine’s fight is expertly done – and mercifully brief. After edited highlights he wins the closely-contested fight on points, goes home to his wife, and collapses.
After major head surgery – his problem is never actually specified, but we gather it’s some sort of brain trauma – he is effectively disabled. Whittaker is alone, bringing up a baby and now a child of another sort, one with a vicious temper, hands he can’t seem to control and a bladder more unreliable than Mia’s. It’s grim, unrelenting stuff, the only real cinematic comparison being Clint Eastwood’s equally daring Million Dollar Baby.
Considine makes absolutely full use of what he has at his disposal. He makes training runs in wintry Sheffield look positively uplifting, and the inside of gyms positively reek with the sweat of former boxers. Sheffield has a proud history of boxing after all, and the training sequences are brilliantly staged. His cutaways, when he remembers being struck during the fight itself, makes brilliant use of sounds, the thunderous noise of a blow to the head being thoroughly shocking. Whittaker’s strained face displays the deep worry every partner must have before a fight, the very real prospect of physical and mental damage on their loved one.
Without wishing to give away the plot, what follows is gruelling, but what is surprising is how standard it becomes. Considine’s fight back to fitness has the cliché ‘his biggest fight was yet to come’ practically yelling off the screen. Whittaker virtually disappears, leaving Considine to fumble around his huge house alone, before his training team ride to the rescue.
Overall verdict: Having turned the boxing movie on its head Considine seems strangely unsure of where to take it next, and resorts to a story which, while always real, is all a bit made for TV special. A shame, as for most of its running time Journeyman is a thoroughly engaging experience.
Reviewer: Mike Martin