Director: Paddy Considine
Screenplay: Paddy Considine
Starring: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker
Runtime: 92 Minutes
It’s stimulating to see gifted filmmakers coming at a material or storyline from a fresh or untapped perspective, and Journeyman jettisons the by now exhaustive if solid foundational narrative of the boxing drama being used as a redemption metaphor, and approaching it with a story that instead focuses on the unseen aftermath and damage that can be dealt in such a blunt and violent sport.
Middleweight boxing champion Matty Burton (Paddy Considine) is approaching the end of his career, and wants to go out on top by fighting obnoxious young opponent Andre ‘The Future’ Bryte, who riles up Matty by continuously referring to their fight being ‘a life changer’. As far as on-the-nose metaphors go it’s not entirely subtle, but it serves a purpose to the struggle to come.
This traditional sports film pitch covers only the first 20 minutes of the film, as following their fight Matty succumbs to a delayed reaction to a devastating blow to the head and collapses. Though it’s never explicitly explained exactly what happened to Matty in the ring or the immediate aftermath of his collapse, it’s the aftermath months later that the audience is left with as a physically and mentally altered Matty is brought home by loving wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker).
The film then transitions into something much closer to writer/director Paddy Considine’s previous character-focused drama Tyrannosaur, all be it not as unrelentingly bleak. But it’s a tough watch in other ways, as Matty’s battle transitions from the ring to his on-going battle against his own mind and the slow return of his memories. His immediate and almost instinctual return to physical training makes an interesting substitute for the traditional montages of the genre.
Considine’s very matter of fact visual presentation allows the reality to sink in and the gravity of his devastating emotional situation as he becomes a second child to his wife, who is already caring for their young daughter Mia as it is. His sharp edits at moments of crisis convey the trauma well, and even though the early fight scene doesn’t evoke the visual ballet of the sport as seen in other pictures, that’s not really the focus or intention.
Besides, this is a film driven more by the power of its performances and they’re uniformly strong. Considine is terrific as Matty, all visual ticks and clouded frustration where every answer to his own questions are always on the tip of his tongue but just out of grasp. Whittaker’s down to earth portrayal of a partner trying to be as supportive as she can while facing the desperation of the situation alone is extraordinarily, and balanced brilliantly by a performance that channels the wonder as she hears the voice of the man she once knew coming in and out of their conversations.
It’s a shame that their dynamic doesn’t remain the constant focus, as Matty takes most of the film on his own back from the midpoint as his cornermen return to his life, and the film misses the engaging presence of Whittaker as the only female voice. Although, the supporting roles of Tony Pitts and especially Paul Popplewell feel like engaging presences in their own right.
Journeyman is a leaner and softer accomplishment than Considine’s previous film, and a well-intentioned feature of phenomenal performances and emotionally rich stimulus. If only it took more risks regarding its elements and structure.