Political agendas and unruly vengeance fill Welcome to the Punch with bloated confrontations and middling character definition. Shot in the knee and suffering residual effects, London detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) journeys on a three-year quest to stifle criminal figurehead Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong). Intermittent obstacles and grave personal cost only heat Max’s excessive, punctuated viciousness.
Welcome to the Punch is populated by thugs unable to spot targets, wasting inordinate levels of strewn ammunition to kill those standing mere feet away from firing positions. Action movies do this to spray heroes with impossible odds, a ratchet on tension meters and when cautiously employed, end results thicken drama. Punch’s allure toward sedate editing plunges firefights into implausibility. It is a film too in love with the gun.
Mired in thick conversation and muddled necessity, material meanders into a shift for third act closure, undermining prior development. An exhausted Punch collapses into an unsatisfying final frame that makes one wonder why this narrative was constructed at all. Lewinsky’s seemingly purposeful extraction for revenge deteriorates into a secondary, even third level story string.
In bulk, Punch plants sub characters in their narrative slots, unmoving as sedentary players. Most exist as elements, not people, mere accomplices who drop clues or pack in during action frays. Muddling and even confusing strands bog this trot through London locales down in a flood of information.
Even Lewinsky, driven by McAvoy’s snarling performance, fizzles when seeking freedom from oppressive higher-ups. Embroiled in unsatisfying scandal, Lewinsky feels strewn aside as he sets traps and uses dead children as an appalling lure. Punch’s ultimate reveal is one stretching necessity, looping in McAvoy’s character almost on accident.
Second time director Eran Creevy blitzes with action, opening Punch on glitzy downtown vistas as cameras pan downward to set scale against shimmering, reflecting glass backdrops. Lewinsky charges in headstrong before any establishment of identity, losing involvement without any legal base. Lewinsky could be a rival of Sternwood’s gang and the sequence would play identically.
Occasional trips into slow motion add a spark to imbue scattering debris with entertaining results, certainly choreographed with additional caution as opposed to standard live action. While it cannot overcome deficiencies in structure, stylized violence is a relief from mushy plotting.
Spy a Blu-ray case. On the rear artwork, small notations will explicitly state whether a disc is in color or back & white. This used to mean something, a holdover from days of early tube TVs and VCRs, so those fancy enough to splurge on color equipment would know they were in for Technicolor splash. Maybe even foggy Eastman color. Whatever the case, it was saturation.
Welcome to the Punch lists itself as color, and it is lying. Of course, this could depend on personal definitions of “color.” Black & white means two tone, and grays in-between. Punch is equal to black & white, only with orange and teal. Color grading is impossibly offensive, the absolute worst and most overdone in this era of excruciatingly neurotic efforts to create an equal visual baseline across all film.
As powerful a tool as digital manipulation is, it has led us here. Punch is insufferable to look at, spilling otherwise sharp cinematography with egregious blasts of repetitious color. London’s skylines only exhibit teal lights. Skylines are blushed with teal. Nighttime streets are orange. Teeth make characters appear as if they’re drinking blueberry Slurpees. There are editions of The Smurfs where lead characters display less clashing oranges and blues in their flesh tones. It impacts story by rendering characters comically oppressed.
None of this has anything to do with Blu-ray short of questionable marketing. IFC’s encode of this glossy indie production is perfect, compression nullified as a visual deterrent and source material respected. Banding during opening credits can be levied against effects elements which pieced them together. Despite some faulty, smeary medium shots, Punch is decidedly resolved. Digitally designed black crush in droves is another debate entirely.
Blu-ray criticism, flimsy as a side profession it may be, is a careful mixture of spotting visual appeal and considering director preference. At this time, with such a remarkable influx of appallingly drab cinematic entries, orange and teal has been discontinued as a “choice.” It is a familiar, lifeless, copycat methodology to bulk up failing skill sets with regards to Earthly color decisions. When all color art looks the same, art is lost.
Gunfire design is an exceptional element in a stirring mix of bright positional work and carefully constructed soundscapes. Shoot-outs work over available channels, perking up empty dialogue scenes. Bursts break free into the LFE for added girth without feeling overdone. Silenced rounds are brought to life with a heavy puff that satisfies.
Locations affect sound as well, an early conflict settled in a closed off apartment with limited sound movement. Inside a club with a tall ceiling, audio pierces and echoes with added flow. One explosion will heighten audio impact even if it is short-lived, a booming subwoofer moment.
A making-of runs through character and plot descriptions before arriving at technical details in a brief 18-minutes. Seven actor/crew interviews are sources for the featurette, while adding substantial chatter. McAvoy’s is especially entertaining as he uncomfortably stands in the rain holding an umbrella.