LFF 2017: Journeyman Review
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After the bleak world of Tyrannosaur (2011), Paddy Considine’s latest directorial feature seems a million miles away in comparison. Indeed, when Journeyman begins it is surprisingly light in tone, the smiling faces of Matty Burton (Considine) and his family almost at odds with what we’re expecting from the writer-director. Yet what starts as a simple story about a boxer trying to keep his number one title soon becomes something else entirely, Journeyman’s true narrative packing a mighty punch when it is finally revealed.
The power of Journeyman actually comes from this slow build up, Considine careful to show how perfect Matty’s life is before it all crashes down around him. A loving wife (Jodie Whittaker), a beautiful baby daughter, a large, opulent house: there isn’t much more he could ask for, except maybe the chance to win his upcoming fight against a new challenger. But after a serious injury, Matty suddenly has no memory of any of this, the once confident man becoming so far removed that he almost seems like a different person. It is then that a new struggle emerges for Matty and his wife Emma, their previously steadfast relationship pushed to the limit as he strives to remember, and as she patiently waits for her real husband to come back to her.
While that sudden change in the film’s tone hits us hard, it is the stark juxtaposition of Matty before and after the injury that particularly resonates with us. He essentially becomes a child, having to learn names and faces again, unable to make a cup of tea, or even recall that he has a daughter. It is deeply unsettling to watch unfold, all the more so because of Considine’s incredibly realistic portrayal. Switching from confused, gentle innocence to unchecked rage in a second, Considine easily portrays Matty’s frustration at himself, but also shows how he becomes a ticking time bomb – one that could do anything at any moment, not fully understanding the magnitude of his actions. Yet even as the old Matty seems to have disappeared Considine is still able to hint at the man remaining underneath, a flash of recognition in his eyes suddenly giving Emma, and us, hope before it quickly disappears again.
It is a stunning, disconcerting central performance that is perfectly complimented by Jodie Whittaker’s – a powerhouse of a role that shows how much Matty’s condition affects those around him as well as himself. Emma goes from wife to carer in a day, a woman increasingly worn down by the situation, yet still determined to help her husband remember. In just one of many tragic moments, Whittaker brings a wealth of emotional depth to a quiet scene in which Emma whispers in Matty’s ear as he sleeps, begging her real husband to come back to her. It is instances like these that also bring the gravity of the situation into perspective, the continuous uphill struggle for all of them suddenly apparent – a struggle that may never have an ending to it.
While Journeyman is captivating, its deeply affecting narrative keeping you hooked even when making you grimace, it sadly doesn’t have the same heartwrenching impact as Tyrannosaur. Indeed, in comparison it almost feels as if Considine is often keeping us at arm’s length – as if there is still a wealth of unexplored opportunities within Matty’s story, but which he is avoiding to keep things from becoming so hopelessly dark and depressing. As a result the emotional rawness is there, yet it isn’t as complex or effective as we know Considine is able to portray. The ending is also testament to this – a wonderful moment but one which hints at there being more to this tale than we are allowed to see.
Comparisons aside though, this is beautifully made film in every aspect of production. Stunning sound design puts us in Matty’s shoes throughout, the crunching impact of punches reverberating onscreen when he remembers them, a technique that perfectly portrays the damage of his mind. And Laurie Rose’s cinematography revels in those outstanding performances, the camera in close as it takes in the subtle emotions of the characters. This is used to particularly great effect in a scene shot entirely in one long take – a sequence that is simple yet superbly powerful, and that relies completely on Considine’s brilliant performance. It is moments such as these that make Matty’s journey worth travelling, and one of many other instances that make Journeyman more than just your average domestic drama.