If I'm critical of Journeyman, Paddy Considine's sophomore directing effort, then it's because I expect more from him. There was nothing ordinary about 2011's Tyrannosaur. By contrast, I managed to correctly predict the general narrative arc of Journeyman in the first fifteen minutes.
Considine plays Matty Burton, the middleweight world champion being challenged to a fight by up-and-coming Andre ‘The Future' Bryte (Anthony Welsh, very good here). “This is a life-changer for you,” is The Future's prescient trash-talk. Indeed, Matty wins the fight, but suffers terrible brain damage that traps his real self in a body that suddenly needs to physically and emotionally re-educate itself.
Marty's wife, Emma (Jodie Whittaker), finds herself saddled with not only a young child, but a husband who might as well be. One post-fight scene shows Matty and his daughter at the kitchen table, scarcely any difference in their mannerisms. Emma tries to reconnect with her husband through rehabilitation, memory and intimacy, but struggles with his now short and explosive temper.
For such an unpredictable actor, it’s a shame Considine’s film is so conventional and falls so often into cliché. The montage sequence of Matty’s rehabilitation is a particularly workaday misstep. The acting, however, is superb. Considine himself is a generous performer, always sharing the screen with his fellow cast members rather than owning it. He is the kind of actor that can make you sympathise with a character and deeply fear them in the same film (see A Room for Romeo Brass and you'll know what I mean). He has a friendly face, but one that can elicit deep discomfort if the moment calls for it. Many of his scenes are simply very difficult to watch.
Jodie Whittaker gives a beautifully sensitive performance. For her scenes with Matty, she is the one doing the heavy-lifting and without her Considine's performance wouldn't have the impact it does. When her character is frustratingly sidelined, we are left wondering: whats Emma's side of the story? why has it been suddenly erased? There are strong performances from Matty's friends at the gym, but the real heart of the film is Whittaker.
Although I have reservations about Journeyman, I can't say it isn’t effective in taking its audience on an emotional journey. I flinched more times than I'm proud to admit and during a heartbreaking phone call, the audible sniffing from other critics means I can confidently say I wasn't alone in shedding a tear. Frankly, any film that makes you cry and has Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on the soundtrack is doing at least something right.
Words by Logan Jones