Sunday, 5 August 2018
The vast majority of boxing films tend to follow the same path. An underdog rising through the ranks until he takes on a champ. Here he'll either win or lose but importantly he'll learn life lessons and drag himself out of the gutter while doing so. Rocky, Cinderella Man, The Champ, Undisputed, Girl Fight and many more follow this pattern. You'd think it would get boring but somehow it never does. There's something about seeing a dark horse succeeding that just transcends repetition and the sport of boxing is a perfect framework for these stories. Journeyman is a little bit different, being more of a film about the effects of boxing than the sport. It's a film about a man who happens to be a boxer.
Matty Burton is a happily married husband and father who's about to defend his world championship belt in a fight against the showboating Andre Bryte. Andre's nickname is Future and he represents it while Matty stands for the past. He's a journeyman. A fighter who's unflashy but who has the ability to grind out a result. During the fight he suffers a serious brain injury and finds himself fighting to make the biggest comeback of his life.
Paddy Considine wrote, directed and stars in this and he's made a great job of it all. As you'd imagine it's a bleak and upsetting story but gladly it's not as traumatic as his last film, the nearly unwatchably brutal Tyrannosaur. It has that film's realism though. Happiness is in short supply, life's disappointments loom large and easy answers aren't around. We see the effect life changing injuries have not only on a patient but the people around him, the people who love and depend on him. We see how men fail to cope in stressful situations and instead choose to run and hide rather than face hardships and their own emotions, how woman cope better in these situations but how there's still only so much a person can take. Thankfully some shards of humour bleed through the misery otherwise it would all just be too grim. Not much now, but just enough. Fans of the montage scenes so familiar from Rocky films also will be happy to see they reappear here too but rather differently to what you'd expect. They'll still make you pump your fist though.
It's hard to watch a man come apart at the seams but Considine sells it. He's a great actor and one not afraid to look feeble and needy onscreen. His change from the happy, friendly, confident fellow we meet at the start of the movie to what we see after is stunning. Not flashy, not award bait, just real. Jodie Whittaker as Emma Burton gets her own story too, she's not just a witness to Matty's journey. Fear, worry, stress and love are etched on her face and some of the decisions she makes during the film might have felt questionable in the hands of a lesser actress, but with her you just feel nothing but empathy. She's a mam, just doing her best for her family.
This is Considine's first serious lead role in 14 years since his amazing turn in Dead Man's Shoes. When this film didn't do well in the cinema he spoke of retirement. That would be an awful pity if he did. He's too good to lose. Here's he's managed to take a genre as old as the hills and turn it into something beautifully humane and fresh feeling. That takes skill and he does it all without bloat or padding out the story with unnecessary asides. At 92 minutes long the film is as lean as a bantamweight fighter.
This is out now to buy and is also available to rent now in the google play store. It's really worth watching.