The Movie Waffler New Release Review - JOURNEYMAN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - JOURNEYMAN

journeyman film review
A champion boxer struggles to recover after suffering brain damage.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Paddy Considine

Starring: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Popplewell, Tony Pitts, Anthony Welsh

journeyman poster

It seems like we get a handful of boxing movies every year, and each time a new one is announced I think to myself, "Not another bloody boxing movie!" Yet when I sit down to watch them I inevitably find myself drawn in, shadow-boxing along with the onscreen drama. No other sport lends itself to the silver screen quite like boxing. Most sports are a challenge to convey cinematically - there's only one way to shoot a tennis, football or rugby match if you want the viewer to keep track of the score, but boxing allows a filmmaker to flex their directorial muscles and get right in on the action. The fact that it's a sport of individuals rather than teams lends itself to great character studies. And then there's the emotion - if you don't find something in your eye when a bloodied and bruised Rocky Balboa screams out his girlfriend's name you should probably check your wrist for a pulse.

journeyman film

Paddy Considine's Journeyman, his second directorial outing after 2011's Tyrannosaur, leans heavily on the emotional manipulation, but there's very little in the way of on screen pugilism. Considine isn't interested in boxing so much as one of the controversial aspects of the sport, that of the damage taking repeated blows to the head can have on an athlete.

Considine directs himself as Matty Burton, an aging middleweight world champion who plans to call time on his career after an upcoming bout with mouthy young up and coming bruiser Andre Bryte (Anthony Welsh). Matty defeats Andre, but upon returning home with the championship belt to his loving wife Emma (new Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker), he collapses.

journeyman film

Awakening from a brief spell in a coma, Matty is a changed man. He barely recognises Emma, and has no recollection of fathering his infant daughter Mia. Initially, Emma stands by her man, becoming a nurse more than a wife, but when Matty begins to turn physically violent, endangering his wife and daughter, Emma leaves him. Determined to win her back, Matty enlists the aid of his boxing buddies and begins a strenuous mental and physical training regime.

Considine is excellent in the lead role, conveying the contrast between the strong figure we see on top of the sporting world at the movie's beginning with the broken man-child he soon becomes reduced to. He's overshadowed however by Whittaker, brilliant as a woman torn between her love and duty towards her spouse, and her desire to protect her child from the threat he's inadvertently become. When her character exits the film for most of its remaining running time, Journeyman suffers greatly, reducing a well developed female lead to a prize for its male protagonist to win back.

journeyman film

I dislike criticising a movie for what it isn't, but I can't help but feel Journeyman would have been a far more interesting watch if it devoted as much time to the inner conflict of Emma as it does to the physical and mental tribulations of Matty. While we see friends rally around Matty in his time of need, we get no sense of who Emma is beyond her relationship to her husband - doesn't she have any family or friends she can call on for support? The movie's strongest scene comes when Andre, the boxer who unwittingly inflicted Matty's injury, pays a visit to his accidental victim. Again, I couldn't help but wish the film showed us more of the grief Andre was suffering.

When a fan asks Matty for his opinion on who the greatest boxer was, he replies "Muhammad Ali, because he made you laugh." It's a shame Considine couldn't have followed Ali's lead in injecting some much needed humour into his film. Largely devoid of human warmth for long periods, Journeyman too often feels like an exercise in exploitative misery porn, and while its manipulative moments are undoubtedly affecting, there's a sense that Considine is simply pressing emotional buttons for a reaction. I couldn't help but think of the actress Tallulah Bankhead's words, "An onion can make you cry, but show me the vegetable that can make you laugh."

Journeyman is in UK/ROI cinemas March 30th.