Review: Journeyman (2017/18)

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Lose yourself: Film4/Inflammable Films

I really don’t know how he does it. TYRANNOSAUR singled Paddy Considine out as a filmmaker to watch, one with a clear and distinct voice all his own. But apparently just writing and directing just didn’t quite satisfy his creative drive. With JOURNEYMAN he is not only telling his own self-penned story but he is almost the entire focus of it portraying its trauma-inflicted lead.

At the height of his fame, middleweight champion boxer Matty Burton (Paddy Considine) suffers a head injury that turns his world upside down. Can Matty regain anything of what he has lost and remain part of his family’s life?

If we’re looking for easy movie comparisons, it’s a British ROCKY meets the documentary MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN, weighted far more towards the latter. At this point I’ll briefly pause and ask that you seek out My Beautiful Broken Brain on Netflix if you haven’t already; it’s brave and enlightening and a great real-world primer for a drama that covers similar material. In Journeyman the fight of Matty’s life isn’t in the ring but within his debilitated mind. Most of us can’t imagine the painful, draining process of having to rewire our brains almost from scratch, having to re-learn things that are second nature to a functioning adult, like connecting names with faces, or remembering to boil a kettle to make a cup of tea.

To start with you think Considine’s portrayal of Matty’s impairment might be a little obvious, ticking off everything we all think we know about people who suffer brain injuries. Thankfully, we are taken into more uncharted territory as his story progresses, Matty’s increasingly frustrated, erratic behaviour eliciting some unexpected, hard to watch, but completely understandable reactions from his nearest and dearest. Jodie Whittaker is a perfectly-pitched co-performer, painfully selling the other side to what Matty is going through. It’s great to see that Whittaker’s copious talent will shortly be reaching a mass audience as she travels time and space, as she’s been impressing in TV drama and on the indie circuit for years.

Boxing movies as a rule don’t tend to feature much, or really be about, boxing. Journeyman sticks to this convention. The boxing ring is only a window through which we explore trauma, trials and tribulations. There’s only the single match depicted at the beginning as it’s the inciting incident, the moment where Matty is at his highest  high and about to plummet to his lowest low. Considine looks the part and the scene feels completely convincing, but the physicality of the ring is really only a warm up for what we are about to see Matty go through.

Most of the film is a low-key realist flavour of upsetting, only towards the end does Considine employ the somewhat cheap trick of playing some Nick Cave in the background to elicit a bigger round of sobbing. Lesser films would use musical emotional blackmail more often, or make an obvious point about the characters in quotable dialogue. Considine is clearly more of a show, don’t tell kind of guy, and he respects his audience enough to keep up with where the characters are without explaining it outright. A fair few of the key scenes are lengthy and unrelenting, Considine not giving his viewers the chance to look away.

Journeyman is a pretty tough watch, but it’s an soulfully fulfilling and emotionally resonating one as well. In short, put the work in and this film will repay in dividends. Seek it out, endure and reap the benefits. Just don’t leave it so long next time please, Paddy, Mr Considine. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Taika Waititi and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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