GFF 2018: Sensitive boxing drama from writer-director-star Paddy Considine
Boxing's macho posturing is stripped away in a tender drama, focusing on a champion fighter's rehabilitation after sustaining a head injury. It's the second feature from writer-director Paddy Considine. His follow-up to Tyrannosaur acts as the flipside to that searing, BAFTA-winning tale of domestic abuse, presenting a relationship that's taken through the wringer but that ultimately has the capacity to be life-saving rather than threatening.
As the title suggests, Matty (Considine himself) isn't exactly an all-timer; the worthiness of his world middleweight belt is questioned at the outset and, although he has something to prove and a dead father to do proud, he lacks the do-or-die hunger of his upstart opponent Andre (Anthony Welsh) – a fighter branded 'The Future', making Matty, by inference, 'The Past'.
Instead our protagonist is focused on his family, wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and new baby Mia, who the camera dotes on as much as her daddy. When he sustains life-altering injuries successfully but scrappily defending his title, those formerly in his corner drift nervously away, while even his rock-solid relationship with Emma struggles to weather the consequences, as Matty becomes a danger to himself and others.
Considine delivers a significantly more soft-hearted picture than the similarly themed Bleed For This and one that, while harrowing and jolting in places, is considerably less bleak than, say, Million Dollar Baby. It's notable for its portrait of tough men overcoming their cowardice and connecting with their sensitive sides as they learn to provide emotional support and, as an actor, Considine ensures Matty's road to recovery is credible, even if his age makes him an unlikely champion.
On the other hand, Whittaker is such an affecting actress and her predicament such an impossible one that it's desperately disappointing that the film doesn't give her character the opportunity to voice her own challenges (especially with Matty unable to articulate his own), going to the length of cutting away from her just as she prepares to confide in a friend. As such, the film reveals itself explicitly as Matty's journey, rather than one they undertake together.
Nonetheless, the compassion Journeyman brings to a brutal sport is refreshing. There's a lot of delicacy in the performances and in cinematographer Laurie Rose's visuals, occasionally undermined by the less subtle script. The conclusion is arrived at rather suddenly and conveniently given the complexity of the situation but, buoyed by an unshakeable faith in the knockout power of love, Journeyman is as earnest as they come.
Screening on Tue 27 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2018. General release from Fri 30 Mar.