By Chris Williamson
Part of the challenge enjoying boxing movies as a ‘hardcore’ fan is that filmmakers are historically prone to getting small but important details wrong. A venue which is unfeasibly glossy, title belts which almost but don’t quite look like the real thing and gyms lined with too-fresh fight posters all provide a dead giveaway of a production team which doesn’t quite understand the gritty fabric of the sport.
Thankfully, this is never an issue for ‘Journeyman' a new release from writer/ director Paddy Considine, who has drawn upon friendships and contacts formed within the sport from his days as a photographer back in the 1990’s. Watch closely and you’ll notice a stream of cameos from familiar fight faces, among them Francis Warren, Karen Priestly, Steve Bunce, Mike Goodhall, Kell Brook and Brendan Ingle – something of a Godfather figure in Sheffield, where the film is set - as Burton’s late father.
Although ‘Journeyman’ presents it’s sporting scenes with striking authenticity, it isn’t a traditional boxing movie at all.
While the opening moments emphasise the highs which sport - and life - can provide when lived at its extreme edges, this is juxtaposed through what follows with the painful, slow, silent aftermath of serious brain injury suffered by Considine’s character, Matty Burton.
As Considine explained in person after the showing which BoxingScene.com attended, he wasn’t interested in making a formulaic boxing movie or recreating the overt masculinity played in his breakout role in ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’.
One of the most effective themes in the film is the portrayal of loneliness, emphasised by long silences - or perhaps simply a boiling kettle – in Burton’s large, luxurious modern house turned recovery-centre. Against this backdrop, Considine and Jodie Whittaker as Burton’s wife Emma deliver engrossing performances, with their believable dynamic making for a gripping, emotionally involved film. One scene in particular – which I won’t spoil – is an absolute masterclass and one which the writer/ director later told us was performed and captured first time in one take.
Considine spent a long period researching brain injuries and their aftermath, drawing on the experiences of head trauma doctors and victims of patients - mainly car crashes, Considine explained - providing the sometimes shocking scenes of relapse and recovery, like the boxing scenes, with a real feeling of authenticity.
The film also explores the nature of friendship, in particular where dynamics change dramatically or boundaries become unclear. As the injured Burton reviews photographs from his boxing days, he asks his wife where the team around him – his friends – are, to which she response movingly, “that’s a good question.”
A running time of just 92 minutes provides the discipline for Considine to select only those events deemed most important and leaves others - such as the financial implications of disability - unsaid through a simple, effective narrative as lean as the shape in which Sheffield trainer Dominic Ingle crafted its lead actor’s body. Considine told us the aim in building the physique of the fictional WBO middleweight champion - incidentally crafted by the trainer of the real life champ Billy Joe Saunders – was in the mould of a long and lean Joe Calzaghe type.
In a year where the tragic death of Scott Westgarth has forced many of us to reconsider our relationship with the sport, ‘Journeyman’ feels like an important, well-crafted film and one which reminds us all that, unlike most sports, nobody plays boxing. Highly recommended.
‘Journeyman’ is released in the UK on Friday 30th March