BFI LFF: Journeyman (2017)

Paddy Considine directs and stars in Journeyman. a melodrama about the hidden toll of boxing.

The Fellowship of the Ring

by Alexa Dalby

The Journeyman

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Paddy Considine directs and stars in boxing melodrama Journeyman, his follow-up to his first debut with the also-grim Tyrannosaur. He’s Matty Burton, wanting to consolidate his world middleweight title in one last fight before he retires to spend time with his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and baby.

Inevitably, in any film where any job is being done for one last time, it all goes wrong. What was meant to be glorious end to a career instead ends in Matty receiving a serious blow to the head from his young challenger (Anthony Welsh), who had previously taunted him with a life-changing match. The brain damage Matty suffers are indeed life changing. Returning home from hospital to his clinically monochrome modern home, he’s reduced to a childlike state, unable talk in sentences, unable to remember his family or himself from his life before the fight, and physically uncoordinated and impaired.

Journeyman charts Matty’s long fight back. We see his rehabilitation exercises, his memory lapses and his frustration as awareness dawns of what has happened to him. Emma is understanding and supportive but his injury has caused a personality change and he’s subject to sudden outbursts of violent temper that he can’t control that put unbearable pressure on their life together.

It’s clearly a well-researched film made with the best of intentions but Considine, though he is a wonderful actor, cannot help but not look right for the part. He’s unconvincing as a world-class boxer, not young or fit enough, his face not bashed about enough. Although his disabled plight that occupies the film is moving and the little everyday details of his struggle are realistic, again it doesn’t seem quite right, it strives to be naturalistic but doesn’t quite succeed. Considine uses the device of how capable he is of making a cup of tea as a way of measuring his progress. We see the depths of unhappiness he sinks to in a pivotal scene conveyed in a way that doesn’t sit with the character that has been created. Whittaker’s character could be used more fully so that we saw more of the effect becoming Matty’s carer has on her but she fades into the background as the film drifts into the healing influence of the revived cameraderie of Matty’s boxing associates. It’s a somewhat flawed film whose heart is in the right place, but it suffers from being one of this year’s plethora of boxing movies that include Jawbone, The Pyramid Text, Counterpunch to name but a few.

Journeyman premiered at the 61st BFI London Film Festival 2017.

BFI London Film Festival 2017

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