The boxing movie is perhaps one of the great traditions in sports-based cinema. No other sport has been so well represented at such a high level, and with such a high-quality success rate. From Raging Bull to Rocky to Million Dollar Baby pugilism has been often represented onscreen. However, Journeyman represents not only the most high-profile UK film about boxing but also an in-depth look at the possible consequences of when the sport goes wrong.
Journeyman is the story of Matty Burton, a boxer who is coming towards the end of his career, but who had one last big title defence against young, undefeated upstart Andre Byrte. He is happy, with his wife and infant daughter, as his career winds down. Although victorious in the fight, Burton collapses once he gets home and he is rushed to the hospital. Suffering from a serious brain injury, Burton is forced to re-earn basic skills including walking, deal with memory loss and changes to his temperament and thought process. Burton’s wife Emma struggles, and eventually moves out with their daughter after a disturbing incident, as Burton’s bouts of rage continue. Motivated by a desire to win back his family and aided by his friends from the gym, Burton travels the long road to recovery and redemption.
Paddy Clonidine is clearly a fan of boxing. His considered approach to playing Burton and the direction of the film clearly demonstrates a great admiration for the sport. One of the strengths of Journeyman is the choice to focus on the personal story of Burton rather than using the film as a stick with which to beat boxing. It takes a very neutral stance, not shying away from the very real dangers and pitfalls of boxing, but not choosing to vilify the sport either. It is a very even take. For his part Considine is mesmerising and utterly convincing as the former champion who has lost everything, right down to his movements and facial expressions, it really is a superb turn, especially given he was also directing.
However, for me, Jodie Whittaker is the star of the film. Her portrayal of Emma, the loving wife determined to stand by her husband even in the face of insurmountable odds, forced to separate herself for the good of her child, and still hold everything together is superb. That said, one of the major issues I had with the film was the absence of Emma’s character for much of the second act in favour of Jackie and Richie from the gym. I get that the idea of redemption and recovery through boxing, as the very thing that caused him the injury and it all coming full circle, but it sidelines Whittaker for far too much of the film for my liking.
Journeyman is an engaging, engrossing and ultimately complex viewing experience. It has a very authentic, visceral feel throughout. Some of the scenes with Considine and Whittaker are genuinely unsettling, making for a very difficult watch at points. However, the raw emotion and personal nature of the meat of the story make it incredibly engrossing as Whittaker and Considine shine, with the latter showing a maturity and balance in his direction that belies his relative inexperience behind the camera. A must see both for boxing fans, and film devotees alike.
EXTRAS: Although not plentiful, the extras available do provide some interesting insights. The commentary track features Considine, which is exactly what you would expect. However, the interviews with him, alongside boxing coach Dom Ingle gives a very detailed look at the director/actor/writer's history with the sport. The extended scenes include an extended post-fight interview and head-to-head, which is nice to see, but ultimately these scenes don't add a huge amount to the film and it's easy to see why they didn't make the final cut.