UK Release Date: 30th March 2018
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Paddy Considine
Writer: Paddy Considine
Starring: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Popplewell, Anthony Welsh, Tony Pitts, Brendan Ingle, Matt Insley
Synopsis: When he sustains severe head trauma after a fight, a champion boxer finds himself piecing his life back together following severe memory loss and impaired brain function.
It was in 2011 that British actor Paddy Considine marked himself out as a real filmmaker to watch with the intense Tyrannosaur, which told an emotionally complex and powerful tale of domestic violence. Seven years have passed since then, but Considine is now back with his second feature as writer-director, and this time he’s starring as well. Journeyman sees Considine dealing once again in raw emotion, as he portrays a boxer forced to piece himself and his his life back together in the wake of a particularly brutal fight that leaves him with severe brain trauma.
Considine builds tension like a horror movie in the early stages of Journeyman, with his champion middleweight Matty Burton on the cusp of retirement, building to a fight with cocksure youngster Andre (Anthony Welsh), known as ‘The Future’, who repeatedly refers to the upcoming bout as a “life-changer”. Matty emerges victorious but, later that night, he collapses in front of his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker). The fight has inflicted horrific trauma on Matty, who finds himself unable to remember crucial parts of his life, including his infant daughter Mia.
It’s a simple story initially and Considine paints the pre-fight relationship between Considine and Whittaker as authentic and humble, with their idea of romance a trip to Nando’s. There’s always the sense, however, that something horrible is coming and, when Considine collapses, it’s emotionally intense. The film flashes forward several days and spares us the medical detail of his condition, but Considine’s subtle performance makes it clear he’s not the same man that he was.
Considine and Whittaker are both tremendous in telling the story, which is deliberately light on exposition, relying instead on the heart and complexity of the performances. It’s a subtle film, built on emotion, and the central performances are tortured and authentic, punctuated by flashes of genuinely unsettling horror. A third act scene involving a phone call is heart-breaking on every level, conveying the raw emotion that is present within even the most fractured of minds, and Whittaker gives a performance that ensures she is never forced into the background of the story, despite disappearing for much of its second half.
Journeyman also works as a criticism of performative masculinity, with the refusal of men to display emotion one of the key themes. Paul Popplewell is terrific as Matty’s best friend, who learns to express his own feelings as Matty discovers his own. It’s rare for a film to focus so squarely on male emotion within a world as masculine as boxing and Considine uses the inherent bravado of that world to skewer the nature of men who shut themselves off emotionally in order to make the world easier to bear.
There’s no such shut-off for Considine, whose brain injury turns him into a bundle of unrestrained emotion, with flashes of his pivotal fight intruding into both his mind and the frame like the jump scares of a horror film. It could easily be an overplayed performance, but Considine modulates the tics and quirks of his work to produce a turn that is consistently believable.
Journeyman doesn’t quite have the immediate, masterful potency of Tyrannosaur, but it’s a tremendous British drama and a movie that does something completely different with the idea of the boxing film. There’s a slight drift into overly tidy cliché in the very last scene, but there’s so much heart and so much terror to the story that it’s impossible not to be at least a little overwhelmed by the emotion it conjures. It’s trite and obvious to say it packs a punch but, for me, it’s a knockout.
Pop or Poop?
Paddy Considine delivers another deeply impressive movie with Journeyman, which steps outside the established structure of the boxing movie genre to produce something with far more emotional complexity. Both Considine and Jodie Whittaker give performances of immense power in a film that’s about the strength of familial bonds and the fragility of performative masculinity.
It’s a heart-breaking character study that, but for a third act wobble, is a near perfect emotional journey, with a deeply unsettling undercurrent of horror.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.