For a film produced on a government-funded scheme that gave its recipients a budget of £100,000, Eran Creevy’s debut film, 2008’s “Shifty,” has enjoyed a long cultural half-life. Although it didn’t get a decent airing outside of the U.K. – and even then was little-seen, in spite of an array of awards and critical attention – this hasn’t diminished the prospects of its director Creevy, whose follow-up “Welcome To The Punch” has been catching our attention since it we profiled its script when it charted high on the annual Brit List some months ago. Already confirmed to star were James McAvoy (who could do with off-setting his debonair know-it-all performance as Professor Charles Xavier with something more substantive), Andrea Riseborough (she of “Brighton Rock” and “Never Let Me Go”) and Britain’s answer to Jeremy Renner in terms of his heedless productivity, Mark Strong.
Empire reports that the rest of Creevy’s cast for the film, which began principal photography in the past couple of days, is just as impressive. The director has reunited with one of his “Shifty” leading men, Daniel Mays (also seen in last year’s “Made In Dagenham”) and he’s rounded out the cast with another great British actor and director in his own right, Peter Mullan (if you’ve never seen “Orphans,” “The Magdalene Sisters” or “Neds” then correct this post-haste), as well as the ever-reliable character actor David Morrissey, whose stoicism was one of the highlights of the impeccable “Red Riding” trilogy, and Johnny Harris, whose stock has been rising since his turn as a loathsome pimp in Paul Andrew Williams’ “London To Brighton” some years ago.
No word yet on which roles these actors will be filling, as much detail on the plot isn’t yet known. Even though what we do know seems like fairly conventional territory. The story centers on ex-criminal Jacob Sternwood (Strong) who is forced to return to London from his Icelandic hideaway when his son is involved in a heist gone wrong. This gives detective Max Lewinsky (McAvoy) one last chance to catch the man he’s always been after. As they face off, they start to uncover a deeper conspiracy they both need to solve in order to survive. Creevy’s eye for taking familiar material and adding a welcome shade of nuance (in the case of “Shifty,” a young hood in over his head with drugs) bodes well for this project which walks on similar ground, albeit in an action context.
“Shifty” had a sparse, utilitarian quality which marked it out as a welcome antidote to the Guy Ritchie directed, Matthew Vaughn produced gangster pictures (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”) that spawned a host of imitators since their appearance over a decade ago. These were themselves subject to rapidly diminishing returns, not least in the case of Ritchie himself, whose self-parodic efforts “Revolver” and “RocknRolla” cast London and its criminal underworld as a mythical fantasy-land peopled with sprightly foul-mouthed caricatures that spoke entirely in rhyming slang. Thankfully there’s been an upturn of late, and those who are fans of British thrillers seeking to strike out of the pejorative “urban crime” ghetto that they’ve languished in for some years now – usually “complimented” by a performance by mockney bruiser Danny Dyer – have a lot to look forward to. “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” was one of the highlights of 2009, whilst Ben Wheatley’s horror “Kill List” has been garnering advance buzz for a while now. To this list we can add “Welcome to the Punch”.
Lofty comparisons about the project’s spiritual debt to Michael Mann and his film, “Heat,” have abounded — not least from Creevy himself, who regularly drops the director’s name and his stylistic influence into interviews — and London’s Evening Standard also cites Ridley Scott as Creevy’s unofficial “mentor” on the film, whose production company Scott Free is also involved with the film alongside Creevy’s own producing partners Rory Aitken and Ben Pugh for Between the Eyes. But if Creevy can replicate the success he enjoyed with “Shifty” on a broader canvas, “Welcome to the Punch” — particularly in the dull arid recesses of the British film industry, whose other “action” film on the horizon is “Johnny English Reborn” — seems like a very exciting prospect indeed.