30th March 2018 (UK), 30th July 2018 (UK DVD Release)
Boxer Matty Burton suffers a serious head injury during a fight. It is about the impact this has on his marriage, his life and his family.
Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Popplewell
I’m not ashamed to admit that I frequently shed tears while watching emotional films. The scenes don’t have to be particularly sad either – as long as there’s some plinky piano music or slow violin strokes, raised voices and at least one other character is blubbing too, that’s all I need for my own eyes to well up.
All-out bawling though: that’s a different, uglier honour and reserved for one film which of course features a dog doing very innocent dog-like things. I’m talking about the Richard Gere starring, glum-for-all-the-family picture Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, in which a professor forms a special bond with an Akita dog who has been abandoned at the train station. It’s the only film which I have openly wept at.
That is, until Journeyman.
Paddy Considine stars as Matty Burton, a boxer in the twilight of his career but still at the top of his game. He’s the World Champion and as such has a wealth of challengers chomping at the bit to take the title for their own. Enter Andre ‘The Future’ Bryant, a brash and loudmouthed young whippersnapper who, at a press conference to promote the bout between the two, repeatedly calls the match ‘a life-changer’ for Matty.
This serves as an ominous precursor for our champ, as during the fight he suffers a flurry of blows to the head, the results of which only manifest themselves a few hours after the contest is over. Matty returns home to his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker, the first female to play the popular time traveler Doctor Who) feeling tender, bruised and naturally a little worse for wear after going 12 rounds. Emma leaves the room to make a well-deserved cup of tea for her husband, only to find him slumped over a table completely motionless upon her return.
When he wakes in hospital sporting a huge scar on the side of his head, it’s painfully clear that Matty has suffered a catastrophic injury which required surgery on his brain. Its affects his movement, memory, speech and, as we come to learn, his entire personality. Through the support and unending love from his wife and friends, Matty faces grueling physiotherapy sessions and intense training regimes in the biggest fight of his life – the one for it.
Far from being the typical rags-to-riches fare often seen in Boxing movies, Journeyman sheds light on the physical effects that come with participating in contact sports. It’s certainly not the first to do so, with Will Smith’s 2015 drama Concussion dealing with the potential long-term damage to American football players do to their heads after playing, but it’s undoubtedly the most heartwrenching and human.
Considine’s performance as Matty is phenomenal. Before the injury, he plays him as a quietly humble down-to-earth champion, proud of his accomplishments in the ring but never egotistical. More importantly, he’s a dedicated family man who’s starting to shift his priorities from the sport which made him a household name to providing for his wife and baby girl, Mia. It makes it all the more devastating when he sustains the debilitating injury, one which wisely isn’t fully explained. I say ‘wisely’ because by giving it a definitive diagnosis would open up the possibility of scrutiny of his recovery time and progress.
It’s in the subsequent scenes following Matty’s dramatic change where Considine exhibits his raw talent. Portraying a character with brain trauma obviously requires the utmost care and attention to detail to avoid venturing into ridicule and by working closely with medical professionals throughout its production, Considine delivers one of the most realistic and heartfelt performances I’ve ever seen.
Jodie Whittaker is equally sublime as Emma, Matty’s loyal wife. The effects her husband’s injury have on her life too are just as adverse; remember, she’s still got a baby to bring up by herself as well as care for her now-unpredictable husband. In some truly harrowing scenes, it’s clear just how unpredictable Matty has become and as a result, Emma becomes voluntarily absent for a large part of the second half of Journeyman.
Her absence is glaringly noticeable, as the film is at its most tender when the couple is together. Stepping in as support when she exits are Matty’s friends from his time as a champion boxer – people who seemingly abandoned him when he needed them the most. But Considine’s screenplay doesn’t ever point fingers or pass the blame. Just when you think you’ve got everyone and their motives for their actions figured out, Considine’s writing changes your perception of them with a single line, exchange of words or even just an expressive glance, highlighting the power of communication and the pitfalls of presumption.
The performances are extraordinary and its story is simple yet exceedingly emotional; Journeyman is a film about the brain but whose jabs on the heart will unquestionably leave a lasting scar.
Journeyman is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD & Digital Download in the UK through Studio Canal.
Extraordinary performances from Considine and Whittaker
Guaranteed to make you cry and earn every teardrop
Whittaker's absence in the latter part of the film is notable