Wednesday, April 04, 2018


Journeyman is clearly a passion project, but it’s all misplaced passion. It’s as if Paddy Considine’s burning desire to tell this story led to him rushing into production with a script that was at least a couple of drafts away from being fully realised. This is Considine’s second film as a director following 2011’s Tyrannosaur, which layered on the misery too aggressively but at least boasted performances that felt lived-in and full of authentic anger and heartache. In contrast, Considine struggles to give his actors in Journeyman more than a single dimension to play, including himself. The director stars as Matty Burton, an ageing middleweight boxer preparing for one final championship bout before retirement, but his opponent is a dangerous young fighter who snarls, “This will be a life-changer for you” at Matty during the pre-fight press conference. His words are horribly prophetic.

A few hours after winning the bout, Matty is found by his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) slumped over the coffee table, and after an emergency cranial operation he returns home a changed man. Already busy raising a newborn baby, Emma now finds herself taking care of her once-formidable husband, suddenly reduced to a childlike state. With an ugly scar across one side of his head, Matty has to relearn the basics of life – walking, talking, feeding himself – while also trying to remember the man he was and the life he once had. It’s undeniably wrenching to watch Emma and Matty struggling through this painful situation, particularly as they are completely alone, but the absence of anyone else in their lives for long stretches of the film tests the boundaries of credibility. They appear to receive no visits or offers of help from healthcare workers or from friends and family, and there seems to be no media interest in the decline of this British boxing champion. Where is everybody?

The whole film smacks of underdeveloped writing. Jodie Whittaker is a fine actress but she has been given no character to play here. Who is Emma Burton? Does she have any friends, any interests outside the home? When she finally takes her baby and leaves Matty, after he has lashed out violently at her, we briefly see her walking alone and sitting in a house alone. It seems inconceivable that she wouldn't turn to her family or friends in this time of need. When she leaves the picture (a critical misstep the film never recovers from), Matty's longtime corner team, who abandoned him when he became incapacitated, reunite to help him on the road to recovery, but they also only exist in order to serve their function in this straightforward narrative arc. The most well-developed character in the whole film is Matty's opponent on that fateful night, Andre 'The Future' Bryte (skilfully played by Anthony Welsh). So arrogant and aggressive in the build-up to their fight, Andre is one of the few people who visits Matty at home and he appears stricken by the damage he caused.

Considine remains a compelling screen presence and he carries Journeyman with a performance that boasts a number of keenly observed details; I particularly liked the way he often had his hand resting up by his chin, an unconscious sense-memory of the defensive stance he'd take in the ring. But Considine the director keeps letting Considine the actor down. The second half of the film takes the short cut of montage sequences to show Matty getting stronger and returning to something like his old self, and the mawkish finale attempts to wring tears out of the audience by abruptly dragging Emma back into the picture. Considine has done nothing to earn this redemptive ending, he has given us no sense of how she now feels about the husband who she deemed too dangerous to be around just a few weeks earlier, it's just all too easy. Considine wants to hit the audience hard but he's straining for effect without putting in the work between these big moments, to make us believe in these characters, in this situation. If Tyrannosaur was a little too tough to take, Paddy Considine has swung too far in the other direction with Journeyman. This film is so soft and thin it has turned to mush.