Any sport that allows repeated blows to the head is always going to lead to casualties, and none more so than in boxing. The release of Paddy Considine's Journeyman follows on only a month after the death of 31-year-old Scott Westgarth, who collapsed and died shortly after winning his fight in Doncaster.
The men and women involved in this modern day gladiatorial sport know the high stakes involved every time they step into, and out of, a boxing ring. But the lure of a big pay-day and the adrenaline of taking on one last challenge can sometimes prove fatal. Muhammad Ali is probably the most famous example of not knowing when call it quits and Considine gives us a similar story of a boxer who takes on one fight and several blows too many.
Journeyman is a world away from the gritty style that made Considine's Tyrannosaur so hard hitting. Aside from directing and writing he also takes the lead as Matty Burton, a seasoned pro boxer (the weight division is never mentioned but it's somewhere around flyweight) who has just captured a world title in the latter stages of his career.
We are embedded into his home life with wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and, the recently born, baby Mia. They're the centre of his world and taking on the first defence of his title against Andre "The Future" Bryte (Anthony Welsh) will help secure their financial future. But once the fight has finished and he returns home Matty collapses clutching his head before being rushed to hospital.
When he awakes his memory and physicality are in pieces and rest of the film follows both Matty's fight to regain his old self, along with Emma's struggle to cope with her husband's new condition . His ability to emote and speak clearly, along with memories of his marriage, daughter and friends - who have left Emma to pick up the pieces alone - are elusive, and his own frustration boils over into violence against his wife, testing the limits of Emma's commitment to their marriage.
The story passes through many of the traditional sporting drama phases taking us into the pits of Matty's depression and back up into his fight to regain some sort of quality of life. There are no punches pulled in its attempts to get you to 'feel' something with the overuse of Harry Scotts' score being the main culprit. On many occasions it smothers the drama as it battles for room to breathe, which is unfortunate given how much heart the performances add to the story.
Jodie Whittaker is an actress not seen enough on the big screen (maybe her time spent as the new Doctor Who will change that) and once again she proves why her talents should be seen more regularly outside of TV. We could do with seeing more of Emma's story which seems to stop halfway through the film and the equal perspective that characterises the first half loses its balance later on.
Considine's performance is a little harder to judge in full. His relationship with Whittaker feels wholly believable and you want them to find a way to resolve the tragic issues that have turned their lives upside down. How well Considine evokes the details of a brain injury victim is a little sketchy, although he has no doubt spent infinitely more time studying the issue than this particular reviewer and most of the people reading put together.
There is an earnestness about Journeymen that shouldn’t be overlooked and although there are also problems at script level that bridge together the final two acts a little too quickly, thanks to its compelling leads it is still standing on its feet by the end and just about wins on points.