Welcome to the Punch

Welcome to the Punch

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Welcome to the Punch (2013)

Opened: 03/27/2013 Limited

IFC Center03/27/2013 - 04/04/20139 days
NoHo 703/29/2013 - 04/04/20137 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook

Genre: British Action/Thriller

Rated: R for violence and language.

From Executive Producer Ridley Scott


The second feature from acclaimed British music video director and filmmaker Eran Creevy, WELCOME TO THE PUNCH is the story of two arch-nemeses: detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy; X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, WANTED) and master criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong; SHERLOCK HOLMES, ZERO DARK THIRTY). When Sternwood escaped three years ago after a daring robbery, Max was left emotionally and physically scarred. But after Sternwood's son turns up in a hospital due to a failed heist, he's forced to return to London -- giving Max his second chance to get the one criminal who got away. Yet as Max delves deeper into the case he uncovers a vast conspiracy. Featuring rising star Andrea Riseborough (W.E., SHADOW DANCER) and Peter Mullan (TYRANNOSAUR, WAR HORSE), the film was shot in the gleaming streets of London's rejuvenated East End and the banking center of Canary Wharf. Executive produced by Ridley Scott, WELCOME TO THE PUNCH is a sleek modern thriller.

Director's Statement

"After Shifty was released and was critically well received, I sat down and thought, 'What genres do I like, what movies do I like going to see and what sort of movie would I like to make as a genre buff?'" says Creevy on the origins of WELCOME TO THE PUNCH. "I didn't want to make another realistic social drama."

Creevy's debut feature as a writer-director, the 2008 BAFTA-nominated urban drama Shifty, was born from his own experiences. "Shifty was not about my own life per se, but it was about my home town," he continues, "and I could talk with confidence about those characters, how they spoke and how they dressed and the way they lived.

"But for my second film I wanted to make something from a film buff's point of view, a genre-geek, who grew up loving films like Bullit and conspiracy movies like Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, Heat and Infernal Affairs; I have a massive love for Michael Mann, the Scott brothers and also Hong Kong cinema, especially the films of John Woo."

Like Shifty, WELCOME TO THE PUNCH follows the story of two male protagonists, Max Lewinsky (McAvoy) and Jacob Sternwood (Strong), operating on different sides of the law, each guided by his own moral code.

-- Eran Creevy, Writer/Director

About the Film

Characters & Story

Lewinsky is a police detective, who early in the film suffers public humiliation during a failed bid to snare the criminal mastermind, Sternwood. He also suffers a serious wound to his knee. "We see Max fail at the beginning of the film and it is quite a public failure," begins producer Rory Aitken. "It is humiliating and he is physically and emotionally scarred by it, so when we meet him again a few years later he's a damaged person.

"He was after Jacob because he believed he could get him. Jacob was the best criminal Britain had ever seen and Max was young and arrogant and thought that he could take him down."

To bring Max to the screen, the filmmakers turned to James McAvoy, star of The Last King of Scotland, Atonement and X-Men: First Class. "James is seriously intelligent and has a complexity to him," says Creevy. "His character, Max, is also very complex and there are many layers to him. You really feel that when you watch James in a scene."

McAvoy says that he "loved the epic nature of the film", which the actor "was unaccustomed to seeing in a British crime thriller." He says, "It looks like an action movie but it is definitely an action thriller. And often British crime films can look a bit parochial, while this is a lot more universal. There is a lot of moral fucked-up-ness in it and the two characters, Jacob and Max, really take on this journey. They have such a massive journey to go on, separately and together."

McAvoy notes that in the aftermath of his character's early, botched bid to catch Sternwood, Lewinsky has gone from "being a flag bearer and a champion of his division to being a bit of a joke and a bit of a has-been."

He says, "While Max is left scarred physically, his physical limitation is less of a cross to bear than what has happened to him mentally. The psychological damage that has been done to him is far greater."

Aitken adds, "Max is now kind of treading water in his job and he is nervous to step up to it when we hear that there's a chance of Jacob Sternwood coming back to Britain."

Jacob Sternwood's final heist not only humiliated Lewinsky but also set up the master criminal, financially, for the rest of his life. Sternwood is a keen outdoorsman and has relocated to Iceland, living a reclusive life, until a panicked call from his estranged son, Ruan (Elyes Gabel), brings him back to London.

"Jacob was the best criminal in Britain," explains Aitken. "He was awesome at what he did and made enough money to never have to come back to Great Britain. He goes to Iceland, not the Rio de Janeiro that train robbers go to. He thinks his life is then sorted but it's not. Jacob has lived a selfish life.

"At the beginning when his son calls Jacob they obviously haven't spoken for a while," continues the producer. "Jacob then has to come back and save his son but in trying to do so he goes on a journey of discovery, learning what his life really is and that the reason his son is in this terrible situation is because of him."

The son pays for the father's sins. "That's absolutely right," says producer Ben Pugh. "Jacob is a classic male egotist. He thinks he has made all the right decisions and it has led him to this area where nothing is really right."

For the role of Jacob Sternwood, the filmmakers turned to Mark Strong, whose bulging CV includes supporting roles in Body of Lies, Syriana, The Young Victoria, Sherlock Holmes, RocknRolla, Stardust and Kick-Ass, among others. "Mark is a very intelligent actor," says Pugh, "and very, very popular as well. People like watching Mark in a film, and he does a lot of terrific work."

Creevy agrees. "There is something very approachable about Mark," offers the writer-director. "When you first meet him he is very warm, and even though the character, Jacob, is ruthless, a criminal, there's a warmth to him in the film. Also, Jacob can't be one-note, so you need an actor of the Mark's ability who can go to those levels and those depths of emotions."

The actor, meanwhile, says he loved the character's depth and complexity. "You are always looking for layers as an actor," begins Strong, "and the more complicated the better because I don't believe people are all good or all evil. Everybody is made up of a lot of different strands and if you can find a character who is noble, but troubled and who hasn't perhaps been on the right side of the law but who you can root for, that is interesting."

When Sternwood is drawn back to the UK against his will, it is Lewinsky's fellow police detective Sarah Hawks (Riseborough) who helps an ailing Max face up to his past failures and to find the courage to once again re-engage with his life and his career.

Hawks is tough, gutsy, but inexperienced. She wants to work with Max to learn from him but finds his refusal to be open minded and live up to his full potential stifling and confusing. It's perplexing for her trying to unravel Max, she wants to help him return to the man he once was, before Jacob Sternwood slashed his confidence.

"At the time of Sternwood's return, Max doesn't value himself at all and it is actually Sarah Hawks who reminds him that there is still that good within him and that he has to find that," explains Rory Aitken. "Max in the meantime has trusted in all sorts of people and when he starts to work on the Sternwood case he realises that there are much deeper conspiracies at play.

"It is Sarah Hawks who is saying, 'Max, you have got to look all around you at the wider things that are going on if you are going to solve this case.' And she doesn't know how right she is, because it is the people who are closest to Max who have betrayed him. It is only when he is at his lowest that he starts to see the bigger picture. It is more complicated than good-guy or bad-guy."

To play Sarah Hawks, Creevy, turned to Andrea Riseborough, star of Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley, Brighton Rock and W.E. "When you see Andrea on screen you can't take your eyes off her," says Pugh. "The part just comes alive and certain people, probably including me, didn't quite realise what was on the page for her. She is stunning."

Aitken says that Riseborough caught the subtlety of the relationship that plays out between Hawks and Lewinsky. "Andrea is obviously a great actress and she brings to the screen an incredible power," he says, "just in the tiniest movement of her face and in her eyes.

"The relationship between her and Max always had to be incredibly subtle," he adds, "and you need really good actors to bring that out. With her performance it is all absolutely right there on the screen and in the actions as much as in the dialogue, which is really important."

The actress says that Hawks is motivated by an opportunity to advance her career, but needs Lewinsky's support. "Max has had a prolific and notoriously successful career," Riseborough explains, "and Sarah achieves status as second in command but then becomes very disappointed with the reality of Max's work ethic.

Riseborough continues, "He has become stagnant and disinterested in his work and he is deeply disenchanted with what he does and there is something traumatic she has a sense of, something she can't quite grasp. She then sees an opportunity in this case and also sees it as a door to reignite Max's passion in what he does."

James McAvoy concurs. "Much as she is a junior officer," he says, "Sarah Hawks becomes the one who pushes Max into what will lead to him another confrontation with Jacob Sternwood when he comes back to London."

Mark Strong, meanwhile, says of his character's on-screen rival, "Max is some way down a very tortured road, a man who has become obsessed with Jacob Sternwood, and yet Jacob is the opposite. Jacob is being drawn back into this struggle against his will and is no longer posturing as he had done. He is just a father looking for his son and he doesn't want any trouble."

Whether he wants trouble or not, Sternwood is drawn into a larger game playing out among the upper echelons of the police force. Eventually, Sternwood and Lewinsky realise they're facing the same foe. "Max has been handicapped by being shot in the knee and he's borne that very physical scar that has slightly warped his mind," continues Strong. "He has become in a way obsessed with Sternwood, this man who has nearly finished his career. Max was such a high-flier and he was doing so well and this man ruined everything for him and left him with a physical manifestation of that.

"But, on the other hand," he adds, "Jacob has then left after that robbery and gone to Iceland with his family, lost his wife and has lost touch with his son. When he and Max come back together it makes it very interesting because both of them are really suffering even though each of them is from different sides of that law and order divide.

"One is supposedly on the side of right and the other on the side of the supposedly bad, but neither of them is having a good time. I think that by the end you see clearly that Jacob is living in some kind of purgatory." Though lessons are learned, both men face an uncertain end. "I don't think Max is healed by the end of the film," McAvoy concludes. "In some ways he is even more fucked up."

Look & Locations

To realise their ambitions, the filmmakers researched and shot WELCOME TO THE PUNCH in some of London's most incredible locations, including an opening sequence that plays out in the new St. Botolph Building in the city of London's EC3 insurance district. WELCOME TO THE PUNCH is the first film to have used the location which producer Rory Aitken describes as "just unbelievable, absolutely stunning."

WELCOME TO THE PUNCH also shot in Canary Wharf for two nights. Aitken says, "We had to go and pitch to Canary Wharf and we went thinking it would just be a coffee with the guy there but we went up to the top floor of One Canada Square and there was this board room with about 40 seats down either side and they all trooped in and said, 'What's your proposal?'" recalls Aitken. "I think in the end they were happy, though. We made it look pretty cool."

"It was my intention to show a different side to London." Explains Creevy. "The seed of the script came from the desire to make a cops and robbers film and I wanted it to have a synergy with the cinema of Hong Kong that I love, and the films of Michael Mann.

"I am not trying to make a film in the hope of competing -- I am not comparable to them -- but every filmmaker has to have influences and a jumping off point, and you can see all that in the film, the cinematography and the style of the action. It blends European sensibilities, the nuance and style of performance and then kicks off into some creative action, it has a real vibe to it."

Creevy shot the action scenes himself, without a dedicated second-unit, and the filmmakers feel as though this allows the action to blend with important story beats.

"The violence is never gratuitous and any injury or death is always part of the story," explains Aitken. "We didn't have a second unit, which a lot of action films do. It was really important from the very inception of the script that the story is told through the action and while that is no gratuitous violence or gratuitous action. Every story beat within the action is a story beat within the overarching story as well."

He goes on to say that they sought to avoid "incredibly choppy, quickly edited action". Aitken adds, "and we looked more at films like Hard Boiled and LA Confidential to a certain extent where you can play quite a lot in one shot. In theory that should make an action scene much more tense so that it is not just a visceral experience but you are actually on the edge of your seats because you care about the characters and consequences."

Aitken also notes that the London seen on screen in WELCOME TO THE PUNCH is not made up of the typical shots. "London is a global capital and it is growing all the time, with amazing architecture, but all you are really seeing on film are the tourist sites, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and the Beefeaters and everyone driving Minis and Aston Martins.

"Otherwise, the London that you see is very gritty, with grey skies and it is all a bit depressing. We wanted to make a film that we and other people would actually want to go into a cinema on a Friday night and really enjoy. We love that masculine cinema you see with films like Michael Clayton, The Departed, The Town, LA Confidential. That was our starting point."

Ben Pugh, meanwhile, notes that the film's backdrop grew from Creevy's appreciation of the area in which he lives. "Eran is pretty organic in the way he works and because he lived on the Isle Of Dogs, he set the film there. He's used to walking through it every day and he realised no one was really using this international part of London that looks like Manhattan or a huge city."

A key focus for WELCOME TO THE PUNCH was to tell a story that unfolds against the glistening chrome new-build that dominates the area around Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. It is a sleek and stylish part of town, unseen by the majority of visitors to London. It is almost like a separate city and Creevy has harnessed the area's gleaming architecture to infuse his film with a bold visual style.

Actor Mark Strong says that Creevy's stylistic vision is incredibly strong. "The film is something stylish and slick and sharp, intelligent. It is a film about London, but with the whole idea of gleaming chrome, skyscrapers, with different moods -- a London that is a little cooler and slicker than what we are used to seeing on film."