Welcome-to-the-Punch-PosterEran Creevy’s debut feature, the micro-budget urban thriller Shifty, announced the director as one of British filmmaking’s most promising talents. Coming good on that promise, Creevy is back with Welcome to the Punch; a London-set action movie in the vein of Infernal Affairs, simultaneously evoking the style of Michael Mann, Tony Scott and John Woo.

We’re immediately thrown into a high stakes game of cops and robbers, as James McAvoy’s Detective Max Lewinsky pursues criminal mastermind Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) across our crisply shot capital. The pre-titl showdown between the pair sees Sternwood ultimately putting a bullet in the hot-headed Lewinsky’s knee and escaping with his retirement fund.

But a few years later, with Lewinsky still draining fluid from his shattered knee, Sternwood is forced to return to London from his Icelandic retreat when his son is involved with a heist gone wrong, and the game of cat and mouse resumes. Now though they’re both investigating the same crime, and it soon becomes apparent that there may be a conspiracy afoot that transcends their feud.

Eddie Marsan lookalike Johnny Harris (on reliably detestable form as seemingly low-grade criminal Dean Warns) seems to be the key to it all, and he takes a central role on the third side of the crime triangle…except with this being a big old conspiracy, it’s not clear who else might be on his side. It could be anyone else from a really strong British cast.

Andrea Riseborough is McAvoy’s partner. Peter Mullan meanwhile is Strong’s partner in crime. David Morrissey is the police chief. Shifty’s Danny Mays is a rival cop. It’s a cast that just keeps on giving, and behind every door there seems to be hiding another great character actor. There are small roles Jason Flemyng, Daniel Kaluuya and Ruth Sheen, and Sightseer’s Steve Oram even shows up for a small cameo as a journalist. But that’s all fair enough, who wouldn’t want to work with the director of Shifty?

That’s a question that Hollywood’s best and brightest will surely also be asking soon, because despite some flaws Creevy shows enough behind the camera to justify being handed the reins of something big that can bust blocks. Oddly the flaws here are character based, which is a surprise considering how well established Creevy’s characters were in Shifty. McAvoy does an awful lot of scowling and growling, but despite his best efforts struggles to drag his character out from the stereotype. Strong, meanwhile, finds more success, but it’s very much a performance and character that we’ve seen from him before.

Perhaps the casting’s just a little too on the nose by and large (in a borderline plot spoiler-y way), but it’s a deficiency that Creevy more than makes up for with the structure of his story. The middle act is fantastic. There’s a horrifying and heartbreaking scene early on, a fantastically shot night club shoot out, a tense showdown in an old lady’s living room, and best of all a brilliant twist and change of pace that transforms the movie and distinguishes it in the way that its characters couldn’t.

Between Welcome to the Punch and Shifty there are all the ingredients for a masterpiece…and you wouldn’t bet against Creevy putting them all together next time around.