Following on from his acclaimed debut Tyrannosaur, writer-director Paddy Considine returns with his second-feature Journeyman, a powerful, intimate character study of a championship boxer. But this isn’t your typical boxing movie – middleweight fighter Matty Burton’s (Paddy Considine) battle begins when he suffers life-altering brain trauma. Rendered unable to perform the most basic of tasks, Matty’s condition increasingly strains his relationship with his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and baby daughter Mia. Featuring incredible performances from Considine and Whittaker, Journeyman is a moving portrait of one man’s personal struggle.
The film opens on Matty in training for potentially his final fight, a big-money encounter with arrogant challenger Andre Bryte (Anthony Welsh). Matty is out to defend his world championship title and prove any doubters wrong after receiving the award by default in his last bout. A level-headed, charismatic family-man, Matty brushes off Andre’s insulting press-conference jibes and, in a tightly-contested duel, comes out on top thanks to the judges’ decision. However, following a delayed reaction to a head injury, Matty falls into a coma and wakes up in a vastly declined physical and mental state. Suffering from memory loss, faltering speech and physical disability, Matty becomes a full time-responsibility for Emma. While she initially embraces this caregiver/teacher role, Matty’s altered personality and violent temper soon fractures their relationship.
Considine takes a stripped-back approach to storytelling, placing the emphasis firmly on the two lead turns. His own performance is one of remarkable detail and measure. Considine masterfully portrays Matty’s stuttering speech, nervous hand movements and facial twitches as well as undercutting his character with a simmering, unpredictable violence that imbues the film with a constant tension. It’s clearly a role which has required meticulous research and preparation and Considine’s hard work really pays off.
Whittaker is equally captivating in bringing Emma’s internal struggle to life as she attempts to balance the needs of Matty and Mia. Emma’s sense of loneliness, isolation and helplessness is intensely palpable. And her attempts to interact and reconnect with Matty are heart-breaking to watch. Whittaker’s stirring, empathetic performance captures Emma’s genuine love for Matty and provides the film with a strong emotional core.
Unfortunately, Whittaker is absent from the latter part of the narrative and, whilst Matty’s reunion with his training team produces some suitably sincere moments, the film misses her emotive presence. The film’s opening boxing match also feels a little tame when compared to the exhilarating spectacle of Creed’s fight scenes. But Journeyman’s spectacle emanates from its supremely affecting and emotionally agonising human drama. Bolstered by a pair of knockout performances, Journeyman confirms Paddy Considine as one of the most exciting British filmmakers working today.