Saturday 28 July 2018

Blu-Ray Review: Journeyman

Disc Release Date: 30/07/2018

Director: Paddy Considine

Screenplay: Paddy Considine

Starring: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker

Watching Journeyman at times reminded what a joy I find in watching British features, and how disappointed I am with production companies and distributors with their marketing and releasing of British films on their own soil. 16 years ago, I remember sitting in my (then) only local cinema being able to catch at least one screening of Shane Meadows, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002). In the present day, in the same town, now equipped with two cinemas, it’s doubtful that a film like Journeyman would even get a sniff. The variables are many, yet it’s troubling to see that a film like this, despite its flaws, can seemingly disappear even easier in an age where so much social media mutterings relate to which begone property will be sequeled or rebooted. Journeyman is not for all tastes, but it’s existence gently reminds me of when that seemed to matter less, and a net would be cast further to see who would get caught.

The reference to Shane Meadows in the previous paragraph seems necessary when mentioning Paddy Considine as it was the casting choice of the director which brought Considine to prominence with head-turning displays in films such as A Room for Romeo Brass (1999) and Dead Man’s Shoes. (2004). It was around the time of Dead Man’s Shoes that the outlet placed consideration into the idea that the duo could be an English Scorsese and De Niro.  The films they worked on together often dealt with themes not too dissimilar from Scorsese, often centering around troubled males wracked with mental ambiguity constantly verging on the psychotic. Meadows already dabbled in pugilism with Twenty-Four Seven (1997), but it does feel somewhat surprising that the two hadn’t looked to create their own Raging Bull (1980).

Considine’s Journeyman, much like his feature debut Tyrannosaur (2011), carries Meadows DNA within it in many areas, not only with the similar direction of montages driven by melodic acoustic guitar artists. Journeyman not only utilises the sport of boxing to tell its story but again deals with mental health as well as questioning ideas of masculinity. Like Raging Bull, the boxing ring is a place where a toll is taken. Unlike the histrionics that fill many popular American fight features, the film holds a far more sobering tone.

Starting with Considine’s character Matty Burton looking to defend his recently won title against a cocky young fighter (Anthony Welsh). The boxing quickly moves to the background as Burton is found unconscious in his family home by his wife; Emma (Jodie Whittaker) after the title defence. What occurs afterward is a “fight” for Matty to find himself again as the delayed trauma obtained through the fight has resulted in memory loss and a profound alteration to his personality. The most challenging aspects of the film lie with how the dynamic changes between the previously warm, likable Matty and his family.

Journeyman’s effectiveness lies in its interest in what happens after the fight as opposed to a more typical build towards a final fight for glory, with the films most painful sequences being struggles between Matty and Emma. The most successful aspects of the film lie in the subtle manner Considine makes even the most mundane exercise a minefield of precarious hazard. Making a cup of tea. Dealing with a crying child. Many of the sequences feel reminiscent of dealing with someone with dementia. Whittaker excels here, and we can see all the patience of the character in her eyes and vocal cadence. Considine provides a great foil. Matty is told at the beginning of the film that the fight - in which his abilities are questioned from the off – will be a life changer and Considine’s performance pulls off the overwhelming effect of Matty’s head injury without leaning into I Am Sam (2001) territory. This is bread and butter to Considine of course with the punctuated outbursts of emotion and violence, having that same unpredictable feeling that was felt in his early work with Meadows. Despite this, it is the new Doctor Who who brings the deeper resonance, simply by not having the more “showy” verbal tics.

The film is neatly captured by regular Ben Wheatley cinematographer Laurie Rose. The crisp visuals once again become yet another showcase for Rose, with a wonderful mirrored shot of Matty reflected within a picture of himself in his glory days being a highlight. The muted, chilly tones shown here are also a refreshing change from the larger trend of warm yet strangely flat palettes that have inflated many films and shows as of late.

With all that Journeyman has going for it, there is frustration with the film’s relative neatness in its narrative. Considine poses a compelling question about what happens to Sportsmen who must hang up their gear by force. The film doesn’t shy away from having its lead character – whose job is led by intense and controlled aggression – be exposed by moments of vulnerability and uninhibited emotion. However, the film’s latter stages begin to knit things up in a way that feels more akin to the sports features of America, than finding its own path. It’s also unfortunate does this with what appears to be a sprinkling of unintended vanity. This perhaps won’t be a negative to sports fans who are happy with Journeyman’s “one man’s struggle” narrative. However, for those who may be looking for something that lingers in the mind a bit longer, may do well with heading back to Considine’s first feature. Either way, Journeyman is a film that highlights Paddy Considine’s considerable talents both in front of and behind the camera and reminds us of what often gets lost amongst the fight for filmgoers attentions.