This film and Parker are different takes on the same kind of thing — action-oriented thriller japery — with the exception that the latter at least accepts its generic role and treats it straightforwardly as pulp with a minimum of fuss. Punch is overlaid with a spurious layer of political corruption that seems rather redundant, when all it really wants to be is about chiselled guys shooting lots of guns, of which there is plenty.
But more than that, it’s a London film, which intrigues me as a resident of this city. Interestingly, it presents a side of London that’s been seen a bit less often in films, being the modern shiny glass-and-steel London of recent decades. In fact, the filmmakers are very careful to avoid showing any old or touristy bits of London, which itself makes the film a fascinating document. It starts with a chase scene (a fairly incomprehensible chase scene) around Canary Wharf, shot when it’s at its emptiest and most eerie (so, a weekend evening then, presumably). It then takes in a panoply of modern buildings in the City, with plenty of helicopter shots over the top of the Shard, and one scene supposedly set on the roof of St Bart’s Hospital where the two characters are framed with Elephant & Castle’s Strata London tower in the near background (for non-London readers, that’s an impossible geography).
In fact, the look of the film is all very stylish, with beautiful close-ups of faces framed by alienating modern architecture. There are plenty of forbidding and empty modern spaces drained of warmth and humanity, in which many large-bore weapons are unleashed.
This is all certainly an aspect of London, and yet it’s not a London I really recognise. Then again, the film is heavily focused on generic tropes, many of which have been transplanted from similar films set in the US (and to that extent, it certainly makes me question how much of this kind of stuff is really true over there; it is probably as much a myth in the US as it is in this film). This is not London so much as “London”, a city overrun by violent gun crime (expressed by a number of newspaper headlines and glimpsed news bulletins to this effect), in which the police are desperate to get their hands on weaponry in order to combat the terror the citizens feel just walking the streets. Obviously there are aspects of this that hark back to the mood around the time of the 2011 riots, and yet even then there was never really a sense that people felt afraid of the city or wanted more armed police on the streets.
It’s in the characters and their interactions that those generic tropes become even more keenly felt. Our tale revolves around a young cop (James McAvoy), damaged and embittered by his failed pursuit of a dangerous super-criminal years earlier (Mark Strong; it’s not clear exactly what his crimes are, but it seems as if theft at least is involved). There’s his new work partner (Andrea Riseborough), with whom McAvoy has some suppressed romantic sparks, who is heir to his impulsive streaks. There’s the distrustful work colleague (he wears glasses), and the avuncular boss (David Morrissey), beholden in some shady way to a presumed-crooked politican via his cagy PR handler. Then there’s the gang of criminals reunited to avenge a death, who in the denouement seem to be backed up by a small army of cannon fodder (but that’s not really a spoiler; it’s just that kind of film). There doesn’t seem to be any element of this film which is not familiar at some level, though the pus-filled gunshot injury that McAvoy tends throughout the film injects at least a small amount of ‘realism’ to the otherwise action-rote superhuman feats pulled off elsewhere by Strong’s bad guy.
Were it not for the excellent actors corralled to deliver the script, it would be far more easy to dismiss in its entirety as an (admittedly stylish) exercise in derivative genre cinema. In the end, the film uses an interesting take on London in the service of a by-numbers plot.
Director/Writer Eran Creevy; Cinematographer Ed Wild; Starring James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, David Morrissey; Length 99 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Tuesday 26 March 2013.