On this week’s show I struggle not to dismiss two big-name offerings outright. Victor Frankenstein, starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy, and By The Sea, from Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt, are both unlikely to find much of an audience, but that’s not to say they are wholly without merit.
James McAvoy undergoes a bold reinvention to become corrupt, alcoholic, drug-adled Detective Sgt. Bruce Robertson in Jon S. Baird’s spirited adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel. Vying for a promotion by cracking a vicious murder case, Bruce happily plots to take down his rival officers, while simultaneously juggling numerous addictions, escalating psychotic episodes and a broken family life. Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots and John Sessions head up a strong cast of game co-conspirators, while Baird keeps things moving along at a frantic pace. McAvoy is the real star here, challenging himself to be as outrageous, debauched and disgusting as possible in a fantastically despicable role. While Bruce loses his grip on reality, the film struggles to retain its focus and clarity, but just about holds itself together, albeit it in disheveled, unwieldy fashion.
This week we take a long look at X-Men:Days Of Future Past, the latest in a long series of mutant-obsessed action blockbusters and Disney’s Maleficent, a reworking of the classic Sleeping Beauty tale complete with yet another backstory, which prompts us to question the whole backstory obsession in today’s cinema.
James McAvoy’s transformation into an action hero continues as we see him in yet another big, shiny, stylised London crime thriller. Though unlike Danny Boyle’s Trance, Eran Creevy’s Welcome To The Punch is an altogether more direct and less entertaining experience.
McAvoy plays Max Lewinsky, a police detective obsessed with catching Jacob Sternwood, played by Mark Strong. After a successful heist that leaves Lewinsky injured, Sternwood retires to a cabin in the Icelandic woods. However, a family tragedy soon draws him out of early retirement and back to London.
Despite the aforementioned stylish cinematography, which often makes London at night look like an unrecognisably gleaming modern metropolis, Welcome To The Punch often feels more like a TV crime drama than a full feature film. Even the solid supporting cast (Andrea Riseborough, Peter Mullan, David Morrissey and Johnny Harris) who all do well with what they are given can’t lift the mood.
It’s hard to sustain a crime film like this unless there is either some element of humour, suspense or original action. But, the laughs are few and timid, there are no surprises or room for ambiguity, everything is explained in triplicate and the fight sequences are flat and derivative.
When we get to the final big shoot out (and there had to be a big shoot out, this film isn’t smart enough to resolve it’s narrative tensions any other way), the gun sound effects are insanely and unnecessarily loud. I don’t often reach for the remote when watching films but I did this time and I’m just glad I didn’t watch this in a cinema without ear plugs!
All of which is a shame because there are moments of real cleverness, the kind we expect in British crime capers and there is a certain sharp visual style which is engaging (up to a point). But, leaden dialogue and handholding the audience’s focus undermine what was potentially a cool crime thriller.