Journeyman, a drama about a boxer learning to live again after a devastating brain injury, cements Paddy Considine’s reputation as a genuine creative force.
Since Paddy Considine first emerged on screen, he’s brought a raw, uncompromising energy. We first saw it expressed with a deliciously dark unpredictability in his good friend Shane Meadows’ 1999 film A Room for Romeo Brass. As an actor he’s rightly won plaudits for his work, notably in Meadows’ Dead Man Shoes and Jim Sheridan’s In America. He’s also stolen scenes with subtle effortlessness as a supporting player in a number of British films, both comedies and dramas, such as Matthew Warchus’ Pride and the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg effort Hot Fuzz.
His immense talent was further showcased in 2011 when he wrote and directed the terrific Tyrannosaur, in which he found an astonishing performance from Olivia Colman as a selfless charity worker who befriends a self-destructive lost cause on his road to redemption. Jump forward six years and we arrive at boxing drama Journeyman. Here we see the best of Considine on screen and off it as the writer-director stars as the film’s tragic focus, middleweight boxing champion Matty Burton.
I haven’t been this emotionally bowled over by a boxing drama since Rocky. While the film remains conventional in structure, Considine nevertheless pulls the strings with a simmering intensity that at its heart celebrates the strength of the bonds we make as husbands, as wives, as friends. His script re-routes the familiar road of a champion boxer training for the big fight to rehabilitation after it as a result of a devastating injury causing near-fatal brain damage.
That leads to an intimate portrait of a once adored sports star beginning from scratch as if his life has hit a reset button. He has vague memories of his past, his wife, his child. But as perceived normalcy begins to seep through a brain that can’t function properly, so does the anger as the realisation sets in that this once supreme body will never return to its full glory. That has a devastating impact on his relationship with his wife (Jodie Whittaker in a career-best performance) leading to a number of heartbreaking scenes including one that ultimately forces the love of his life to run terrified out the door.
Considine knows how to get the best out of actors. It helps of course that he started his career as one. What’s astonishing is that he manages to spin so many plates in Journeyman while delivering a performance of crippling nuance; authentic, graceful, magnetic. He’s rarely been better. What’s so captivating about Considine is that wonderful balance he finds between contemplative and explosive, between bottled up emotion and unconstrained release. It works perfectly here in a demanding role that requires him to convincingly portray brain damage while finding the drama in this character’s story arc.
Yet, while Considine commands the screen for the entirety of Journeyman, it is Jodie Whittaker, as wife Emma, who elevates the functional execution of familial strife, breakdown and reconnection with something tangibly profound. The actress, whose fame jumped in 2017 after being named the first female Doctor Who, ensures the agonising reality of life with a husband who suddenly has little knowledge of her never defaults to soap opera or sentimentality. The way she presents Emma’s steely courage is wonderfully understated; her anguish and heartache quietly expressed through a woman searching for the strength to be a wife and a mother.
Considine’s focus on character and performance doesn’t mean Journeyman lacks visual prowess or technical ingenuity. Indeed, Harry Escott’s moving score is incredible while Burton’s attempted suicide in a lake gives the director and his cinematographer Laurie Rose a chance to film some beautiful underwater shots.
Admittedly, this boxing drama isn’t going to rival Rocky or Raging Bull for its photography of the fight sequences but that fits with Journeyman’s appeal away from the ring. This is less about sport, winning and ego, more about the consequence of tragedy on the family structure. It takes the fighting spirit to a new, low key and far more intimate stage; the recognisable training montage replacing gym with physiotherapist’s clinic.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Paddy Considine
Written by: Paddy Considine
Starring: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Popplewell, Anthony Welsh, Tony Pitts
Released: 2017 / Genre: Drama
Country: UK / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed Journeyman on DVD courtesy of Studiocanal. The film is released in the UK on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download on July 30.