I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
I’m gonna take your head off!” “It’s gonna be a life-changer for you!” This is the trash talk boxer Matty Burton (Paddy Considine: The Death of Stalin, Miss You Already) cheerfully listens to from his opponent, Andre “The Future” Bryte (Anthony Welsh: The Girl with All the Gifts, Starred Up), at the press conference before their match, in which Matty will defend his world middleweight boxing championship. And then all that bluster actually comes to pass when, just after their fight, Matty collapses from the delayed impact of a traumatic brain injury sustained in the ring.
Most sports movies aren’t really about the sport itself, but that’s much more the case with Journeyman, which barely features any boxing at all. This is instead a quiet, intense drama about Matty’s recovery. Skipping over the medical stuff entirely, writer-director Considine leaps directly from Matty’s collapse to his return home after brain surgery to begin the long readjustment to life with his wife, Emma (Jodie Whittaker: Black Sea, Get Santa), and their baby daughter, Mia, while coping with lost memories, the need to relearn simple tasks, and his new inability to control his emotions and his impulses. This is very much a domestic drama — almost all the action takes place in the Burton home — about the most mundane of everyday activities that are suddenly a challenge not only for Matty (he flies into a rage over making a cup of tea) but also for Emma, who now has both an infant and an invalid to take care of. Until she reaches a breaking point beyond which even the most saintly and supportive of wives cannot operate.
Where are his friends? Where are all the people who were in his corner in the ring? Emma is left alone to cope because Matty’s friends — all men — are unable to process their own emotions about what happened, and they haven’t even been bashed in the head. Much as Considine’s first feature as director, the harrowing Tyrannosaur, was about men unable to deal with their own emotions (and lashing out violently as a result), Journeyman explicitly tackles the contradictions of men’s feelings, like the difference between the aforementioned “approved” and “acceptable” aggressive public bombast of Bryte and the almost embarrassed way the other boxer slinks over to visit the recuperating Matty privately to apologize for hurting him in the ring, during which Bryte admits to being “ashamed” for trying to be “bad boy.”
Considine has spoken publicly about his own battles with dealing with his anger, so it’s hardly surprising that this has been the matter around which his art revolves. His performance here is extraordinary; his direction is often astonishing in its tenderness: one small memory the wounded Matty seems to cling to is that of his big hand stroking the tiny fingers of his tiny Mia. This may be a familiar-ish story — not the boxing angle but the recovery angle — but it is told with sensitivity and brutal honesty.