Following a year or so from Johnny Harris’ barely-seen, autobiographical gut punch Jawbone, Journeyman sees the second low-budget British boxing film in as many years, where the sweet science is merely a backdrop to some of life’s deeper troubles. Where Jawbone has the lived-in authenticity of Johnny Harris (who himself was a teenage boxing star beset by alcoholism), there’s a soapy, surface-level sentimentality to Journeyman that never rings entirely true; replacing the solid and focused first half with an un-compelling corniness that leaves a sour taste in your mouth and an eagerness for the closing credits.
Which is a shame given the considerable talent across the board. Considine cements his place as one of the most arresting screen presences that British cinema has today, and his debut directorial effort Tyrannosaur, an intelligent and visceral watch which Considine directed but didn’t star in, stayed with me long after I saw it. Laurie Rose, the man behind Ben Wheatley’s roster of visually dazzling work here injects little into proceedings, restricting the viewers access into Considine’s radical loss of self-identity. And finally, Jodie Whitaker, someone who’s work I haven’t much come across, is terrific as Considine’s tormented yet devoted wife. It’s the baffling decision to banish her character from what feels like 50% of the film – after setting up an astute exploration of their bruised relationship – that is one of Journeyman’s several notable flaws.
Considine plays gentleman world champion Matty Burton (overly polite and wholesome) who barely emerges victorious from a bout with cocksure Andre Bryte (Anthony Welsh) who repeatedly barks ‘life-changer’ in some painfully obvious foreshadowing up to and throughout the fight. Matty returns home to his wife Emma before collapsing onto the coffee table, suffering profound brain trauma.
In an interview with ScreenDaily, Considine is vocal about not wanting to cast himself, and I struggled to be fully convinced with him as a world champion boxer. From this point forward however the action never returns to the ring, and Considine is undoubtedly excellent as a man who has to re-learn his reality. His performance is clearly well researched – never showy – ensuring the audience are always equal parts scared, saddened and shocked by his tumultuous recovery, whilst keeping the sense that some semblance of Matty remains, attempting to escape his psychological imprisonment.
The difficulty and subsequent danger of Matty and Emma’s situation is laid bare, but rather than dive into the dark minutiae of their newly mutated marriage, and its effects on the anguished Emma, the film comes up remarkably short, opting instead to ignore Emma’s plight by having her take off and refusing to let the action follow her. We know nothing of Emma’s backstory, and are offered no insights into her character, because the film thinks we’re more interested in Matty rebuilding his relationship with his bland boxing pals.
With Emma and newborn Mia all but absent for a considerable portion of the film, what follows is an increasingly implausible, overly saccharine recovery path that foregoes any opportunity for surprise or critique (of boxing, or of what we can assume would be Emma and Matty’s sizeable network of family and friends, who leave the couple utterly alone) hurtling blindly towards an expectable and tiresome finale. Whilst I agree that someone in Matty’s predicament would find respite in one of the only things he knows, it’s clear that Considine’s love for boxing is clouding any possibility of the film going somewhere genuinely surprising.
Thankfully early rumours that Journeyman had diminished Considine’s desire to direct again are false. Journeyman is a failure – though there’s much to admire about it – and a sophomore stumble shouldn’t deter one of the best British actors of a generation from potentially becoming one of the best British filmmakers currently working.