It’s seven years since Paddy Considine’s blistering directorial debut, Tyrannosaur, made breakout stars of Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan. Since then, he’s mostly confined himself to assaying character roles in a host of feature films, from big budget thrillers to more modest independent productions. He’s generally a welcome asset to any film, but, when, we wondered, was he going to step up and take the reins again? In Journeyman, he finally goes the full Orson Welles, writing, directing and starring in this heartrending drama about boxing – or rather, about the aftermath of boxing, and what can happen to some of its exponents.
Considine plays Matty Burton, middleweight champion of the world, and currently training to defend his title against loudmouthed young contender, Andre ‘The Future’ Bryte (Anthony Welsh). Burton is happily married to Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and the couple have an infant daughter, Mia, who is their pride and joy. But, after a bruising title fight, Matty returns home badly beaten and shortly afterwards suffers a devastating collapse. Almost before we know what’s happening, he is home from hospital, radically brain damaged, and a changed man. He now needs to relearn the simplest things in life – how to tie his shoelaces, how to make a cup of tea and, more importantly, how to relate to the people he loves. The responsibility for his daily care falls on Emma, because Matty’s best friend, Jackie (Paul Popplewell), and his trainer, Richie (Tony Pitts), are nowhere to be seen. Overcome by shame after what happened to him, they have chosen to hide themselves away. Emma is struggling to get through each day and, what’s more, the husband who was once so calm and collected can now be violently unpredictable.
If you’re looking for a nuanced tale, this may not be the film for you. The story here is as straight and powerful as a haymaker to the jaw, as we share Matty’s tortured path to redemption. I like the fact that the script steadfastly refuses to condemn the sport that has so radically changed his life – and that Considine’s character never tries to assign blame for his condition, but instead, rises to the challenge of rediscovering the man he was before he was so radically damaged. I also like the fact that, in the end, it isn’t medicine or therapy that saves him, but love and friendship.
In a recent interview, the actor explained how for ages he resisted taking on the role, believing that he might be attempting too much – but it’s hard, having seen the film, to imagine anyone else inhabiting the part quite so convincingly. Both he and Whittaker submit powerful performances here, and they are ably supported by a whole cast of characters, many of whom are not professional actors, but nurses and occupational therapists. If this isn’t quite the five star wonder that Tyrannosaur was, it’s nonetheless a poignant and powerfully affecting film.
A word of warning, though. If you have tears, prepare to shed them. I kid you not. I cried a bucket full.