Journeyman ★★ review

by Alistair Ryder

With his gritty 2011 directorial debut, Paddy Considine wanted to establish himself as a distinctive realist filmmaker. He may have first emerged on to the screen via his collaborations with director Shane Meadows, but he wanted his take on brutal realism to not be judged against those earlier films- he repeatedly wished that his films would appear “cinematic”, instead of having a stylistic approach akin to docudrama. Six years after his debut film was released, and how times have changed; the cinematic style and the narrative grit of Tyrannosaur have been replaced by a televisual aesthetic and an overly emotionally manipulative saccharinity that runs rampant throughout Journeyman, his disappointing, cliched sophomore feature.

Journeyman; dir: Paddy Considine; UK 2017, 92 mins. Our rating: ★★/5

In the lead role, Considine (mis)casts himself as Matty Burton, a reigning middleweight world boxing champion who is introduced in the run up to a “final fight” where he needs to defend his title against a younger challenger- it is commonly known he only achieved his title due to a mere technicality. Less than 20 minutes in, however, and the film reveals itself not to be a typical underdog boxing story; he wins the fight, but upon arriving home to celebrate with his wife (Jodie Whittaker), passes out from a head injury. Upon waking up the next day, he has suffered from severe memory loss, and now has the developmental abilities of a really young child, or learning disabled person. As his personal life disintegrates, he must embark on the toughest battle of them all: to regain the strength he had before.

Many eyes were rolled during the screening of Journeyman, a film which frequently feels misjudged despite its well intentioned demeanour. It largely stems down to Considine’s performance; as well researched as it likely is, the sight of the actor exaggerating a variety of vocal tics and behavioural patterns associated with the learning disabled leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Many actors receive numerous acting awards for portraying characters with a disability- yet Considine’s performance is devoid of nuance, with very specific vocal “quirks” feeling overly laboured in their repeated inclusion in his dialogue readings.

The over-exaggerated elements to the performance left me thinking of the gag in Tropic Thunder, slighting performers who played disabled characters just for awards- the forced manipulativeness of every line reading here making the character of Matty feel less like a believable human being, and more like a cinematic construct of a disabled character. If Considine’s performance were to be compared to any other character, it wouldn’t be Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot, or Eddie Redmayne’s overrated Stephen Hawking portrayal- no, Considine is clearly cribbing from the Ricky Gervais playbook, with numerous mannerisms that are stolen from the titular character of his execrable sitcom Derek. Gervais and Considine equally share a lack of desire in being cool, and that means delving through a big book of cliches in the hope that enough misplaced sentimentality will generate a sizeable emotional reaction.

Outside of Considine’s performance, nothing within the film itself feels remotely fresh. That the most novel idea is the combining of two separate cliched narratives that resurface annually come awards season (underdog boxing drama and disability drama) should give audiences the assurance that no new ground is being broken here. The narrative is conducted with an emotional cynicism, rehashing old narrative tropes in the hope that it will move the audience to tears- despite the slight 90 minute running time, it’s impressive how many overly emotive tropes Considine manages to squeeze in.

Journeyman is aptly titled; after a thrilling debut, this film feels like the effort of a journeyman director, without a discernible sense of style, or unique approach to both narrative and characterisation. It’s an insufferable, borderline cheesy disappointment from a director (and for that fact, actor) who has repeatedly proven himself to be capable of better things. Don’t make the journey to see this one.

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