Paddy Considine is director, writer and star of his second outing behind the camera, the latest in a string of boxing films. But Journeyman takes place largely outside the ring, putting the emphasis on character rather than body-pummelling action. Its a journey of loss, recovery and healing.
Long-time boxing fan Considine plays the fictional WBO middleweight champion Matty Burton, whos about to end his career fighting cocksure young challenger Andre (Anthony Welsh), unsubtly nicknamed The Future. For Matty, it is a chance to feel “legit”, having gaining his title by default. The plan is to prove his mettle, hang up his gloves, and devote himself to his loving wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and their baby daughter.
Boxing is a dangerous sport, however, and after taking several big punches to the head during the contest, Matty collapses at home. Following a spell in hospital, and what appears to have been an operation on his brain, he returns to his family barely able remember the life he had before the fight, let alone talk.
Emma tries to help him adapt, but his mounting frustration at not being able to do the simplest of things, such as make a cup of tea, results in bursts of volcanic violence, shocking in their spontaneous intensity. He has become a child in a man's body, but one with a boxer's strength, which proves to be a dangerous concoction. The whole family is at risk; can love keep them together?
This is almost as much Whittaker's film as Considine's, and they share a strong chemistry. When the couple's happiness is shattered, Emma must embark on her own fight to hold the family together. Whittaker gives Emma strength and warmth, but also a terrible sadness as she longs for the man she once knew.
Considine, meanwhile, immerses himself in Matty. His performance is unshowy, unsentimental, and detailed, convincingly conveying the physical and psychological damage the former boxer must contend with on his rocky road to recovery.
There are times when the story-telling falters, but the performances are so strong and raw that the odd contrivance is easy to overlook. Its a boxing film whose knockout blow is an emotional one, each beat hard-earned, never leaving you feeling like you've been sucker punched.