You could easily be forgiven for walking into Journeyman and expecting just another run-of-the-mill boxing film. Then again, if you believed that to be true despite having seen Paddy Considine‘s tremendous 2011 directorial debut Tyrannosaur, then you should know better. Because make no mistake, Journeyman is not just a boxing film. If anything, it’s barely a film about boxing at all, contrary to everything the film’s marketing has led us to believe. Using the sport as a starting point, Journeyman depicts a very different type of fight altogether.
As well as writing and directing, Considine stars as Matty Burton, a middleweight boxing champion and devoted family man who finds himself near the end of his career. After a brutal match against a young up-and-comer, Matty suddenly collapses, and his entire life is changed forever when a severe brain injury results in both crippling memory loss and shocking personality alterations.
Journeyman doesn’t pull any punches – honest and heartbreaking as it is life affirming, the film paints a frightening and realistic picture of Matty’s affliction and the devastation it wreaks upon not just himself, but also his family and friends. Paddy Considine‘s script wisely spends a fair bit of time with Matty pre-incident, painting him as a lovable and affectionate individual with whom we would all happily spend time with. Of course when the inevitable does happen, the sudden change in tone and mood is incredibly (and rightfully) jarring, thus making the events that follow all the more terrifying and upsetting to watch.
Journeyman doesn’t shy away from depicting the full extent of Matty’s change, nor does it settle for any easy answers. The film is quick to show us just how tough this is for everyone involved, particularly in the case of Matty’s wife, Emma (Jodie Whittaker). What’s especially interesting to see is how Considine‘s script and direction make clear Emma’s resilience in the face of such overpowering adversity, a refreshing change from the norm that lends the film much of its power, in turn elevated exponentially by Whittaker‘s scene-stealing performance.
It is Considine‘s transformation from the resilient fighter to broken, infant like victim that truly stands out though – his diminished, impaired physical performance sells from the moment we first see him following his collapse, evoking our sympathies with just a few vacant facial expressions and a single slurred line of dialogue. Frankly, it’s a metamorphosis that a lesser-actor would struggle to fully grapple with. In Considine‘s capable and respectful hands though, it’s a powerful and shattering portrayal.
The fact that Considine directs with confident elan whilst delivering such a powerful, realistic and emotionally spot-on performance at the same time speaks volumes of how perfect a film Journeyman (and to the same extent, its creator) is. Blazing throughout with raw emotion and devastating moments of tear-jerking drama guaranteed to tear your heart in two, it’s a film that is tragic and unsettling, yet equally poignant, uplifting and ultimately liberating.
For want of a better title, Journeyman is an undisputed champion through and through!