Matty Burton (Paddy Considine) is a professional boxer who though he is a world champion in his class at the moment, is aware his career is drawing to a close and wishes to go out on a high. With that in mind, he has a fight with a challenger to his crown soon, Andre Bright (Anthony Welsh), a young up-and-comer who talks a big game and whenever the two have met for publicity recently, Bright insists their bout will be a "life changer". Matty dismisses this as all talk, but he has more to lose than he realises, not just the title but also the two people who matter most in his life now that his father has passed away: his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and their baby daughter.
One of the greatest things seen on post-millennium television in Britain was the episode of comedy panel show Shooting Stars where Paddy Considine was a guest. Not that many people remember it, but it was a true delight to see how much he was enjoying himself; they didn't give him much to do, but every time the camera caught him he was beaming with mirth. That's worth remembering when you saw his directorial debut Tyrannosaur, and the film he followed that up with, this time around appearing before the camera too, because if there was one word to sum up the overall impression they left you with, it would have to be “depressing”, such was their thorough narrative dejection.
This started as a sort of indie Britflick Rocky III, with Considine as Balboa and Welsh as Clubber Lang, and while shortly after we have met these characters Bright has been defeated on points (refreshingly, not a knockout which has him tumble to the canvas in slow motion), there is more to come, for this was not strictly a boxing drama. The plot would not have commenced without the presence of boxing, but it was more a disability drama of the sort that you would probably see midweek on the television, making it a brave move in itself to release something as low key as this to cinemas when you just knew there would be grumbles there was little apt for the big screen here.
Of course, many a small, intimate drama can find an audience thanks to it eliciting some major emotional content, and while Considine tried hard, he did get almost comically morose in places as the sadness piles up when Matty suffers a stroke the night he comes home to Emma. This changes his personality in disturbing ways: he is now slow witted, in need of constant care, and the spark that animated him before is apparently long gone. The question we and those around him must ask now is, will he remain the same or will he improve? Given an affliction such as this could go either way, it's all up in the air for our protagonist, which is probably why the focus switched to Whittaker's deeply concerned Emma once her husband had effectively closed down from their previous happy home life.
It was a brave move, though one likely more down to convenience since Burton was no longer the man he used to be, and Whittaker shouldered the task with her customary skill, trying to keep her man as active as he always was, then realising she and their daughter must get away as he is becoming dangerous: mix an impulsive, hair trigger temper with a lack of understanding and a boxer's strength, and you had a combination unsafe for Emma and the child. You did feel her loss when she exited the frame as she was such a strong pillar in both Matty's life and the story, but it was all to establish the concluding scenes as really Journeyman was an old-fashioned weepie at heart, and it was a film that garnered a reputation for reducing grown men to tears, boxing fans or not. Needless to say, Considine was in complete control of his acting, and brought out the best in a relatively small cast, but if you were too butch to cry at Terms of Endearment or Steel Magnolias, this might do the trick in a reassuringly manly manner. Music by Harry Escott.
[Studio Canal's Blu-ray has a commentary with the director-star-writer, an interview featurette and a couple of extended scenes as extras.]