Review: Journeyman, and Paddy Considine Q&A at the Watershed

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Once the credits had rolled and the lights had come on, two men walked onto the stage. One was a member of staff at the Watershed cinema, and the other was the writer, actor and director Paddy Considine. What proceeded was a Q&A lasting around 40 minutes about his recent film Journeyman and his other various projects, past and future. Before the Q&A started, the man leading the event said, “The thing is with all the great boxing films (Raging Bull, Rocky) is that they’re not really about the boxing, and this film comes into the category”, and to be frank, he’s right. It’s a film about family, mental health, and redemption. And a damn good one at that.

The basic premise is Matty (Paddy Considine, also the writer and director) sustains a mentally and physically crippling head injury in a boxing match, defending his middleweight title. With the support of his dedicated and conflicted wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and young child Mia, he tries to climb back to being just a fraction of his former self, without driving away those closest to him.

It’s quite an unconventional film in many ways, especially for the boxing genre. It’s very short, at 92 minutes, and even then has quite a slow pace. There are some good twists and turns as the story proceeds, however, and more once my expectations were subverted – something even the best film-makers struggle to do. In fact, the film even descends into thriller territory around the start of the second half with some scenes that had me and other members of the audience on the edge of our seats, hanging jaws barely intact. To be frank, some of those scenes may be quite disturbing to some people. However, it all culminates in one of the most rewarding journeys of redemption I’ve been on in a long time.

In the Q&A afterwards, Paddy Considine downplayed his ability as an actor, claiming he always feels like an impostor on film and television sets, and that the entire experience of Sam Mendes and Jez Butterworth’s Ferryman was completely terrifying. But in this, he delivered one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a cinema, in my opinion outdoing the likes of Gary Oldman in last year’s Darkest Hour. He was honestly that good. He mentioned in the Q&A that he talked to, and lived with, people who had suffered from this kind of brain damage, and the dedication to research shows. It’s simply an amazing character arc, done justice by a naturally talented actor who’s never even been to drama school!

It must be said, I would be doing Jodie Whittaker a great injustice by not recognising how good her performance was as a woman torn between trying to reconnect with the man she loved (buried underneath this thuggish monster), and bolting out the door for the safety of herself and her child. She captured this struggle so perfectly and deserves to be credited for every piece of her nuanced performance.

Some may feel that the ending is anticlimactic, but I would have to disagree. Paddy said himself in the interview that a traditional boxing film ending wouldn’t have suited the film and I can’t really agree more. The true victory lay elsewhere other than the action inside the ring.

It isn’t without criticism, however. Whilst most won’t care that the general shot composition was quite uninspired, Paddy Considine has a respect for the audience. He told of his assistant director approaching him about getting a shot of the laptop during a dialogue scene discussing pictures on said laptop, and him replying that the audience isn’t stupid: the characters were saying what’s on the laptop so they didn’t need to show it to them. Sadly, a respect for the audience doesn’t make up for the fact that most shots seemed quite bland and simply functional, rather than beautiful or exceptional. To be fair, Paddy did state he didn’t particularly care about shot composition, he usually just blocked the scenes with the actor and viewed the camera as “simply a tool to record the actors”.

He also talked about the difficulty of filming a boxing scene that looks realistic, and that struggle showed in the boxing scene itself. It’s no Jake LaMotta vs Sugar Ray Robinson. On the contrary, it’s more of a tool to get to the incident of the story. My final criticism would be that some of the cross-cutting in the editing felt like quite a lazy and uninspired way to tell a story that clearly had bounds of inspiration and love behind it.

It’s clearly a film that came from the heart: Paddy said that he’s been a lifelong boxing fan and that the film took 10 years to make. This love and genuine care for the sport shows, with real-life boxers, including a real middleweight champion and many other professionals, praising the film. It’s a film filled with true respect for the sport of boxing, which is why it has to show us the ugly truth outside the ring.

To sum up, it’s a respectful, performance-oriented, redemption tale of one man trying to claw back the things that mean the most to him in life. It reminds us of the truth about boxing, that “despite the fact they may seem separated and dehumanised by the TV screen between us, they’re real humans too, and they struggle with the repercussions of the entertainment they put on for us”, as Paddy said as the Q&A drew to a close. Even after the making of this film, Paddy stated that he still loves boxing, and you can really feel that love in one of the best performances on screen that I’ve seen in the past few years. A great watch if you’re looking for a character-driven drama about the reality of one of humanity’s most fascinating sports. Definitely worth a watch.

What’s next for Paddy Considine? Well, he mentioned a few times that he is interested in doing a sci-fi film for his third full-length feature. Paddy said he hoped to obtain a budget of around £10m, over ten times that of his first feature which debuted just 7 years ago! And with the creative talent he’s displayed in his first two features, and many other projects, there is no doubt in my mind that it’ll be one to keep an eye out for.