Journeyman, Paddy Considine’s second feature, is a boxing film, and as such has the hallmark training montages, press conferences and bloody-fight scenes to prove it. But, much like Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw (2015), it is less concerned with the intricacies of the sport, and instead is focussed on the emotional and physical traumas experienced by its characters. At its core, this is really a film about loss.
In the aftermath of the death of his father, Matty Burton (played by Considine himself) gets in the ring for one last time to retain his title as middle-weight champion of the world. Charismatic and collected, Matty appears to rise above the incessant jibes of his opponent, but after taking too many hits he suffers a devastating brain injury that fractures his relationship with his family and isolates him from his team.
The film follows Matty in the wake of memory loss and impaired cognitive function in his harrowing rehabilitation, during which he becomes alienated from his wife, Emma (Jodie Whittaker), and his infant daughter. He loses his faculties of movement and speech, and the scene in which Matty and his daughter are seen to mirror each other drinking out of beakers exemplifies the sense of bleak regression that Matty feels after his accident. As he becomes completely dependent on his wife, the frustration Matty feels despite her unconditional patience and love, turns into physical violence which shatters their relationship.
Matty loses himself and Emma loses her husband, and the palpable heartbreak and loneliness that both Matty and Emma feel is expertly portrayed by Considine and Whittaker. The authenticity of emotion that they enact is – at times – overwhelming; the strength of the film undeniably lies within these central performances.
However, when the film shifts focus from the marital relationship to the fraternal reconciliation between Matty and his former team, it loses some of its potency. Whittaker seems to be wrenched away from the screen all too soon, and in Matty’s speech about his struggle near the climax of the film, he celebrates rather than criticises the sport that caused his injury, fundamentally overlooking a point of salience. Ultimately, the film falls short of being a ‘knock-out’ success; instead – like Matty – it has to scrape by on points.
Image: Studio Canal