No other sport has been committed to film as frequently and to such a high standard as boxing, from the classics, Rocky and Raging Bull, to modern masterpieces Creed and The Fighter, exploring the humanity behind such a hyper-masculine discipline has proven to be cinematic gold time-and-again. Writing, directing and starring in brand new boxing drama Journeyman, actor-turned-filmmaker Paddy Considine had his work cut out for him standing-out in such a saturated genre, where so many films pass by each year without making much impact. Fortunately, an authentic performance Considine as brain-damaged boxer Matty Burton, along with a large dose of quintessentially British charm makes Journeyman a watchable, if slightly formulaic, drama that focuses on the physical and mental effects such a gruelling sport has on one's health.
When heavyweight world-champion boxer Burton unexpectedly collapses following his title fight win, he is rushed to hospital by his wife, Emma (Jodie Whittaker). He wakes up days later following a significant brain operation, severely brain-damaged and unable to remember significant events and people in his life. While boxing plays a pivotal role in the premise of Journeyman, the majority of the film is a much more intimate look at the effects of a life-changing injury on an individual's loved ones, and how different people react to such a tragedy. Considine uses Journeyman to explore themes of love and friendship; while his male friends distance themselves from Matty following his surgery out of fear and confusion, his wife remains by his side despite the danger associated with caring for a brain-damaged heavyweight boxer who doesn't know his own strength.
At the core of Journeyman is a subtle, authentic performance from Paddy Considine who, despite also writing and directing the film, never uses his role to show off. What could have so easily become an insensitive and cartoonish performance instead appears sympathetic and respectful – in fact, Considine's involvement at every level of development is arguably a testament to his dedication to ensuring that Journeyman was done the right way. Elsewhere, soon-to-be-Doctor Who star Jodie Whittaker is excellent as Matty Burton's wife Emma, suddenly burdened with the responsibility of caring for a disabled husband who can't even remember his own daughter's name. Whittaker does an excellent job inhabiting a character fiercely dedicated to her husband without seeming subservient, her heartache visible in every lingering shot.
Journeyman is a quiet film that tries it's best to buck some of the clichés that other boxing films fall victim to. Even before his surgery, Burton is a reserved family man, who tries his best to avoid the bravado and showboating of his competitors – he is not the brash, braggadocios fighter so often placed at the centre of similar films. The characters around him are also atypical; Burton is abandoned by his friends and even his wife finds it difficult to provide round the clock care for him. All-the-while, Considine is keen to show that in spite of his situation, Matty Burton is a man who desperately wants to get better. He is aware of his shortcomings and the audience gets to see the character's gradual recovery through Considine's performance and some not-so-subtle storytelling cues.
The title of Journeyman paints Burton as a superhero; perhaps the original idea for the film that has since evolved into something completely different. While some of the plot beats are formulaic, a subtle-yet-authentic performance from writer/director Paddy Considine keeps the film engaging across it's lean 92-minute run time. This is a decidedly British take on the tried-and-tested boxing drama which asserts that the real fight is outside the ring, and Considine's clear dedication to the subject matter at the centre of Journeyman shines through, ensuring that it never feels like a carbon copy of the legendary boxing films that have come before it.
Journeyman is released on the 30th MArch 2018.
Words by Ethan Megenis-Clarke @_ethanmc.
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