After a punishing title defence, world middleweight boxing champion Matty Burton (Paddy Considine) collapses. The journey towards regaining his speech, movement and memory will be the toughest fight he’ll ever face, and the prize could not be greater, for his relationship with his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and baby daughter Mia are on the line.
Journeyman is an astonishing film on many levels and yet one that ultimately lives up to its title. All the elements are superb, wrong-footing your assumptions at every turn, but the predictable plot mean there are few surprises in the end. If you pardon the pun, it really is about the journey.
For a start, it’s a boxing drama and they have been done to death. Surely we’ve seen every angle on the sport? Apparently not. The boxing scenes in the ring are incredible. That in itself shouldn’t be taken for granted; the urgency and tension of the sport is there, but not out of step with the quieter tone of the rest of the film. The success of those scenes is in how the sport is ingrained in the drama and characters before and after the fateful fight, and in Considine himself as Matty.
The trick to a memorable car chase is to show the driver up close and the same applies to sportsmen on film. We understand Matty from even a few brief scenes prior to the scrap itself. Detail is treated casually, like his mate picking him up, his trainer binding his hands, his wife starting to tremble with nerves. A training montage is included, like any decent Rocky wannabe, but without the Eye of the Tiger soundtrack. Just a guy at the gym getting on with it and Considine’s pugilist is an even-tempered family man doing a job. A strange job, granted, but a job nonetheless. Matty isn’t a fierce warrior who uses the ring to thrash out his demons, he is, as the title says, a journeyman. You feel the punches and the pressure he’s under as he battles to get through the rounds.
So the fate that awaits him post-fight is all the more heartbreaking, collapsing in the living room while his missus makes him a cuppa in the kitchen. Jodie Whittaker, soon to be seen as Doctor Who, is wonderful. This is writer, director and star Paddy Considine’s film, make no mistake, but all credit to him for creating such a strong role for Whittaker as the wife facing an uncertain future, despite her unwavering support of her ailing husband. She does the narrative heavy-lifting in the second act and anyone who has had to deal with a disabled dependent will recognise the strain etched on her face as Matty pushes her past her limits. There is one scene in particular that could have focussed on Matty, but instead, the camera settles on Emma.
It’s emotional, but the generosity in Considine’s screenplay evens the pace, making it a story about boxing, about a marriage, about everything around Matty and not just a vanity piece for Considine to exercise an awards-baiting disability role. It would be easy to be cynical; after all, there is no true story on which this is based, nor any exposition to explore just what is wrong with Matty. That must have been a bit of a gamble, but the film overall is so strong that actually, the less-is-more rule works, as it always does.
Considine’s performance is staggeringly good, again, for the small details, such as the gradual improvement in his speech and hands. There are tics, but not overplayed ones. Like everything else in the film, his portrayal of the life-changing injury his opponent threatened him with feels authentic. The mood of the film is similar to the rather more dark Tyrannosaur, his first film as director, or one of Shane Meadow’s films, with whom Considine has worked, so there is no room for grandstanding or hyperbole. That’s just not in his nature anyway and he is one of Britain’s most important filmmakers.
Journeyman is a very clever film. The story is predictable, you have seen it before, but the narrative follows the well-worn path as a touchstone while engaging emotionally in ways the other films couldn’t do. The unassuming result is life-affirming and triumphant.
2.0 and 5.1 english soundtracks are included. I assume it was filmed in stereo and remastered in surround, but the 5.1 is a great choice. The drama doesn’t call for a lot of surround effects and so the sparing use is effective and opens the soundtrack up. Otherwise, the dialogue is perfectly centred and overall, nicely balanced.
Paddy Considine is a fantastic director and like everything else about Journeyman, his unassuming compositions are quietly powerful. The colour palette is soft and naturally lit, but sharp and punchy when required.
Commentary with Paddy Considine
Interview with Paddy Considine and boxing coach Dom Ingle
Extended Scenes: Post-Fight Interview and Head-to-Head
The commentary and interviews are great value, fleshing out the hard work that the film itself tries to disguise.