Welcome to the Punch Movie Review
After the tiny drama Shifty, British filmmaker Creevy turns to both Hong Kong and Hollywood for inspiration, creating an unusually glossy, explosive London cop thriller. But for all the sleek filmmaking and energetic action, the film struggles to make us care about characters who are dark and troubled. Their complexity is interesting, but not hugely engaging.
Adding to the visual sheen, the action is set among the gleaming glass and steel skyscrapers of Canary Wharf in East London, where detective Max (McAvoy) is still struggling to accept his inability to stop a heist three years earlier. The mastermind Jacob (Strong) managed to escape then, but he's back in town now, so Max is chomping at the bit to grab him. Max's lieutenant (Morrissey) tells him to back off, but he secretly works with his partner Sarah (Riseborough) to join the hunt. Meanwhile, Jacob teams up with an old pal (Mullan) to find out why one of the gang members (Harris) is on a murderous rampage. Which puts Jacob on a collision course with Max.
With so much full-on gunplay in a city where cops aren't actually armed, the film feels like it's set in some sort of parallel reality London. And Creevy augments this fantasy tone by indulging in shootouts that are sudden and brutal - like John Woo crossed with Michael Mann. The plot is full of clever twists, as motivations are revealed and a political conspiracy becomes apparent. It's all a bit convoluted and implausible, and the details are annoyingly murky, but within this premise the cast are able to find some emotional resonance.
McAvoy and Strong are terrific in the central roles, which are darkly layered as these two tough-minded men face off against each other with an subtle hint of father-son intensity. Then their interaction takes a surprising turn that makes it even more interesting, however far-fetched. Meanwhile, Riseborough finds some strong steeliness, and Morrissey, Mullan and Harris shine in bolder scene-stealing roles. So it's a shame that none of these people get under our skin. It's nice to have characters who are both good and evil, because this adds a wonderful sense of menace and intrigue. But in the end, the film's striking visual style seems to be the only point, so it's hard to care what happens.