FILM REVIEW: Welcome To The Punch (15)

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For more than a decade, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels has spawned an array of home-grown crime thrillers awash with dodgy geezers, graphic violence and Cock-er-ney rhyming slang.

If the recent big screen version of The Sweeney and now Eran Creevy’s heavily stylised Welcome To The Punch are any indication, the wheeling and dealing is moving into Docklands.

The glimmering skyscrapers, strip-lit office blocks and swish riverside apartments of Canary Wharf, which served as a backdrop to Regan and Carter’s investigation last year, provide an equally stunning setting for this high-stakes game of cat and mouse involving a tenacious police officer and an elusive criminal.

Creevy’s script arms the characters with snappy one-liners that have become a staple of the genre - “The decision’s bad”; “And so’s your attitude!” - but he settles most arguments with a fist- or gunfight. Preferably both.

Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) is an inexperienced yet ambitious detective, who attempts to single-handedly take down notorious criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong).

Disobeying orders, Max chases after Jacob without any back-up and is shot in the leg.

Three years later, the gung-ho battle-scarred detective is gifted a chance at redemption.

Jacob’s son Ruan Sternwood (Elyes Gabel) is arrested at an airport in connection with a bungled heist, and shortly after he calls his father for help.

Jacob secretly enters the country and meets up with associate Roy Edwards (Peter Mullan) to check on his son’s condition.

“The police are going to make an example of him... because of you,” confides Roy.

At the hospital, Max and his long-suffering partner, Sarah Hawks (Andrea Riseborough), wait patiently for Jacob to make his move.

Hunter and hunted orbit one another, unaware they are being drawn into a deeper conspiracy involving a hired killer (Johnny Harris) and a spin doctor (Natasha Little).

Welcome To The Punch is an engrossing if somewhat underpowered thriller, hung on a serpentine plot that cocks a snook at the political establishment.

“I’m paid to catch crooks, not get them elected,” growls Max, voicing his disapproval for the men in expensive suits.

McAvoy and Strong are both solid in highly physical roles, allowing the tears to flow in quieter moments tinged with tragedy and heartache.

Riseborough is woefully short-changed but makes the most of her limited screen time.

Harry Escott’s urgent score creates a brisk tempo for the action sequences, including the opening heist and a four-way nightclub shoot-out that trades heavily on slow-motion to relish the sight of actors sliding and somersaulting through hails of bullets.

Inevitably, cops and robbers are remarkably unskilled with their weapons, spraying entire clips at their intended targets but only hitting the fixtures and fittings.

When a bullet eventually scythes through human flesh, it’s presumably a fortuitous ricochet.

:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 6/10

Released: March 15 (UK & Ireland), 99 mins