Urgh. Another boxing movie? About a man struggling to deal with life when his career is cut short after a serious injury? It’s like a well-followed bus timetable at this point! 2015 it was Southpaw. 2016 it was Bleed for This. And last year it was Jawbone. Come on guys! Considering last year’s most famous sports movies were Battle of the Sexes and I, Tonya; perhaps Journeyman could have been a little different and thrown in a gender swap.
But despite the surface appearance that would suggest this film is just a British version of literally every boxing movie ever made; director, writer and star Paddy Considine does bring a unique touch that helps elevate this movie above the boxing movies of old.
Loving family man and ageing boxer, Matty Burton (Paddy Considine), is approaching the end of his career. But wishing to go out as reigning champion, he agrees to one final fight with brash newcomer, Andre Bryte (Anthony Welsh).
Returning home in triumph, he greets his wife, Emma (new Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker) and his baby girl. But almost immediately he starts suffering from a throbbing headache, which in turn causes him to fall into a coma.
Despite him being rushed to hospital, Matty has suffered serious damage to his brain. Because of this his verbal and motor skills are no longer what they used to be, leaving Emma now needing to take care of two individuals unable to look after themselves.
As a result Matty must go on a journey, not only to restore his former self, but also to try and repair the strained relationships with his family and friends.
After his stunning directorial debut in Tyrannosaur, it could be assumed that Considine’s followup would possess the same darkness that imbued his 2011 film. But such assumptions would be unfounded (Thank God!) as the story of Journeyman doesn’t traverse the path of darkness, but rather one that hews far closer to an uplifting moral drama.
And at the centre of that morality is Considine himself. Clearly not content to only inhabit the positions of writer / director, here he takes on a role that could have been an utter disaster in lesser hands. Perfectly slipping between the moments where his character is calm and collected, and also where he is agitated and confused; Considine presents a man somewhat aware of his sudden change of situation, and yet is powerless to do anything about it.
But compelling portrayals of disability don’t appear in a vacuum. As Tom Cruise’s supporting role in Rainman proved, sometimes it’s a great supporting role for the lead to bounce off that really elevates the film as a whole. And Journeyman is no different, with Whittaker giving hands down the best performance of the entire piece. Though her love for her husband is not in anyway diminished, Whittaker shows the frustration and hopelessness of a woman buckling under the pressure of essentially losing her husband and being saddled with a second child.
Alas, the film takes a little bit of a dramatic nosedive when moving away from the relationship between Matty and Emma, and instead explores the fallout of Matt’s injury on his former boxing colleagues. While this isn’t a terrible choice on its own, said choice means a few characters make some rather odd decisions in order to keep plot moving.
But despite the unusual turn of events, it does lead to the film’s most powerful aspect: its approach to masculinity. Being a boxing movie, you would expect a stereotypical thread about physical strength and the desire to sustain one’s manhood. But here there’s an acknowledgment that male strength doesn’t have to come from raw power, but rather from the attention and sympathy men are willing to give each other. It’s a brave choice and one that leads the entire film to be far more memorable than you might have originally anticipated.
Images © StudioCanal via IMDb,