UK Release Date: 30th July 2018
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Paddy Considine
Writer: Paddy Considine
Starring: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Popplewell, Anthony Welsh, Tony Pitts, Brendan Ingle
Synopsis: A champion boxer suffers a debilitating brain injury and struggles to readjust to life with the help of his wife and friends.
When I first saw Journeyman earlier this year, I really appreciated it as an emotionally poignant tale that provided a completely different slant on the well-worn idea of the boxing movie. With that said, I had a few reservations that prevented the film from being as perfect as Paddy Considine‘s first effort as writer-director – the harrowing Tyrannosaur. On a second viewing, though, the tears came thick and fast as this film landed knockout blow after knockout blow.
Considine, stepping in front of the camera as well for his second movie, is tremendous as the eponymous fighter Matty Burton, who has experienced a career of varying success, culminating with a championship victory. He defends his belt against upstart fighter Andre ‘The Future’ Bryte (Anthony Welsh) and, at the pre-fight press conference, Andre repeatedly goads Matty with the promise that their coming bout will be a “life-changer”. This unfortunately proves true when, after beating Andre, Matty collapses in front of his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and it transpires that he has suffered a brain injury.
As Considine himself points out on the terrific commentary that comes with this Blu-ray release, his film gets through the traditional boxing movie narrative in the first five minutes. He depicts the fight smartly, adhering to the clichés of the genre, while never showing a ‘smoking gun’ moment of trauma that would explain what subsequently happens to Matty. There’s a vibrant glamour to the fight, which stands in stark contrast to the clean, pseudo-clinical environment of Matty’s home, which becomes as much of a prison as any hospital when he suffers his injury, condemning him to remain mostly indoors.
Considine’s central performance is a triumph of subtlety, never over-playing tics in a way that could have made his portrayal of illness insensitive. Indeed, the audience can see a gradual growth in competence and awareness in Matty as his treatment goes on, culminating in the stirring emotion of a final speech that, while a little heavy-handed on first viewing, proves to be a resonant punch second time around. The much-celebrated centrepiece scene, in which the camera holds firm on Considine’s face as he speaks to Whittaker on the phone, is a highlight of performance above all else, as Matty desperately tries to keep the call going.
Whittaker is, in many ways, the audience route into the movie. She sticks by her husband, even as he seems to reach a lowest ebb, and tolerates explosions of temper and even violence on the part of Matty. She serves as a stoic counterpoint to Matty’s friends, played brilliantly by Paul Popplewell and Tony Pitts, who bury their heads in the sand and run, refusing to come to visit Matty now that he is essentially an entirely different person. Journeyman feels fiercely critical of this brand of forced masculinity, using Considine’s character and his lack of boundaries post-injury to challenge his friend’s actions.
There’s an argument to be made that Journeyman could have done with a bit more visual energy and it certainly lacks the explosive action panache of a boxing story like Creed. However, this is a very different movie, focused on the characters behind the boxing, rather than the boxing itself. It’s a poignant exploration of human beings battling against the most difficult of circumstances – and it’s tough not to have a tear in your eye at that.
There’s a really compelling and self-deprecating audio commentary with Considine, as well as an interview clip and some deleted scenes.
Pop or Poop?
Paddy Considine is terrific on both sides of the camera in Journeyman, which transcends the tropes of the boxing movie to tell a story that is about masculinity and marriage, as much as it is about a fighter. It’s a serious, sophisticated tale with its heart in the right place.
A stellar supporting cast and a handful of fiercely emotional scenes are enough to catapult this low-key British movie into the upper echelons of the best movies of 2018.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Journeyman is available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Monday, courtesy of Studiocanal.