Despite a somewhat tepid critical reaction, I was still looking forward to the British crime drama "Welcome to the Punch." The movie is loaded with a tremendous cast that includes James McAvoy, Mark Strong, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan, and Andrea Riseborough. This, along with stylish action and beautiful cinematography, made the film a lot more involving than I had anticipated. Trust me, nighttime in downtown London has never looked so glorious! At the heart of "Welcome to the Punch" is a weathered cop (McAvoy) and the seasoned criminal (Strong) that haunts him. We've seen this obsessed cat-and-mouse dynamic played out in countless other films, but the evolution of their relationship still seemed quite fresh. As they both get involved in a dense plot of corruption and murder, they may have surprising common interests. And as the film progresses, I was more and more caught up in this developing bond. In the capable hands of McAvoy and Strong, this tenuous alliance has more impact and tension than a dozen well choreographed shoot-outs.
The movie begins with a rather improbable chase through the deserted streets of London. McAvoy pursues Strong relentlessly and single-handedly before being shot through the knee. With Strong escaping, McAvoy's knee injury remains a physical reminder of this fateful night that changed his career irrevocably. Fast forwarding three years, McAvoy is distant and surly. Paired with Riseborough, the two are investigating a recent shooting that is leading nowhere. When, however, Strong's son is apprehended with a gunshot wound, department attention shifts to the potential to draw his father out of hiding. As Strong returns to action to find out what happened to his son, a reinvigorated McAvoy sees a chance at redemption. What neither of them expect, though, is that both quests will uncover a much bigger picture. There is nothing particularly new in the plotting of "Welcome to the Punch." Questions of greed, police corruption, and political maneuvering paint a familiar story that has frequently been portrayed in films of this type. Ultimately, though, this one is sold by its actors.
From an action standpoint, "Welcome to the Punch" has plenty of fire power. It is a stylized violence, however, so over-the-top at times that it wouldn't be out of place in a John Woo epic (minus the requisite doves, of course). You might wonder in a hotel shoot-out why Strong can't hit a guy in the same room with an automatic weapon, but can slide across the floor under fire and hit a much smaller canister target. But such is the nature of these scenes. Instead of exploring the complicated back story in too much depth, the finale instead results in an uncompromising gun fight. By doing so, many of the plot threads are left twisting in the wind. I'd have preferred the screenplay to satisfy more of these unanswered questions. And for this lack of real resolution, I'd rate "Welcome to the Punch" at 3 1/2 stars. I will round up, though, for the central performances. I quite liked this one despite my reservations. KGHarris, 7/13.