Welcome To The Punch * * *
Cert 15, 100 mins

The best thing about this British thriller is that every role, even small parts, is filled by a good actor.

Take Jason Flemyng, who appears just long enough for us to recognise him, and for him to utter one line, before he’s shot.

Also popping up for hardly any time are people like Elyes Gabel and Danielle Brent, plus Natasha Little and Peter Mullan.

And the main roles are played by such acclaimed names as James McAvoy, Mark Strong and David Morrissey.

To be honest, the cast is better than the script, but they manage to elevate it to slightly better than your average crime drama.

McAvoy plays dogged London police detective Max Lewinsky, sporting a daft ginger beard and Cockney accent. The film starts with him almost catching his man, ultra-organised robber Jacob Sternwood (Strong). He gets away after shooting Max in the knee and hides out in Iceland.

Three years on, the fight has been knocked out of Max. His knee is giving him problems and his heart isn’t in the job any more – until he gets a sniff of Sternwood again.

The robber’s son is shot in the stomach and collapses, just after contacting dad and alerting his location to the authorities.

His plight brings Sternwood out of hiding to track down whoever shot his son, while his reappearance in London gives Max the chance for payback.

Max’s bosses are played by David Morrissey and Daniel Mays, while Andrea Riseborough is his police partner Sarah Hawks.

“She’s got the same fire that you used to have,” comments Morrissey.

Writer-director Eran Creevy showed promise with his debut 2008 film Shifty starring some of the same cast, like Mays. Welcome to the Punch is stylishly filmed, making London at night look positively glamorous. I could have done without quite so many lingering close-ups and scenes where the colour has been drained from the shot. It’s like Creevy wants to show us 50 shades of grey.

The script includes such clunky and clichéd lines as “We’ll end this tonight and when it’s over, you’ll go to prison”.

There’s a slow motion gunfight and a rather complicated and ultimately implausible plot which is only completely revealed in the final five minutes.

But there are some quite gripping moments along the way. It’s pretty good, just not great. RL

The Spirit of ‘45 * * *
Cert U, 98 mins

Next week will see the release of a wonderfully funny new animation called The Croods, in which Nicolas Cage voices Grug Crood, a prehistoric man who keeps resorting to living in his cave for safety.

Sharing the same kind of context, The Spirit of ‘45 is one of two documentaries this week (see Side By Side review below) which also explore the way modern life is all about battling – and embracing – constant change.

With the economy still in its extended crisis, Nuneaton-born Ken Loach takes a topical look back to the end of the Second World War, when the nation was forced to try to find a better way forward.

Dreams of social justice for all through health, education and housing were at the heart of Clement Attlee’s post-Winston Churchill Labour government.

Some of the wonderful archive footage offers reminders that, for all of our grumbles today, slum squalor is still mostly a thing of the past.

But, oh for the days when women would proudly ‘stone’ their front steps, long before more recent generations have become prepared to let any amount of rubbish blow around the streets until someone is paid to pick it up.

Since Loach’s talking heads are mostly arguing for an ‘old Labour’ way of doing things, The Spirit of ‘45 feels like a feature-length Party Political Snoozefest long before the end.

The unspoken, underlying truth beneath Loach’s tenor is that every government has successes and failures, while all enduring issues of fairness surely ought to be seen as non-political.

Tony Mulhearn, former Liverpool councillor, says: “Because of the nature of the trade union Labour leadership they’ve virtually capitulated.

“The miners were left in isolation. The dockers were left in isolation...

“The TUC should say we’re not interested in your laws, let’s organise and defeat these people.”

Mulhearn doesn’t know it yet, but picking out a quote like that leaves him sounding just like Grug Crood. GY

Side By Side * * * * *
Cert 15, 99 mins

Many of America’s leading directors and their less well known cinematographers talk shop with Keanu Reeves in Hollywood’s equivalent to The Last Projectionist, produced out of Birmingham last year by the Electric Cinema’s Tom Lawes.

Side By Side is a riveting, under-the-hood distillation of 100 years of Hollywood experimentation, innovation and expensive bravery.

One might expect Martin Scorsese to have Luddite tendencies, but no. He sees digital as an opportunity, if you bother to work out how to ‘tell a story, or to paint a picture’.

He does, however, counter with the worry that ‘I don’t know if our younger generation is believing anything any more on screen’.

George Lucas’s Attack of the Clones was the first major digital feature a decade ago, when many people at the time were suggesting he was ‘destroying jobs’.

Danny Boyle says: “I was thrilled to arrive at the holy grail of celluloid. I made a big Hollywood film, The Beach, and it didn’t suit me at all. I felt it was too much away from me.”

Going digital freed him up.

“Someone who is 20 years old is not going to care about the loss of cinemas as a communal space,” warns Boyle.

“They’re interested in how to tell a story and get it out to friends on Facebook, or whatever it is.

“If you become unable to deal with it... it means that your time is finished and it’s time for other people to take it on.”

Side Effects’ director Steven Soderbergh is a total convert: “Film is not sharp, it’s shaking, it’s dirty. I hate it.”

Side By Side has too many F-words for it to be a 12A, so the 15 certificate is an unfortunate, typical barrier for our brightest youngsters.

It’s at the Warwick Arts Centre tonight (6pm), before moving to the Electric Cinema (March 23-27) and MAC Birmingham (March 27-28). GY

Parker * *
Cert 15, 118 mins

For those who want to enjoy some pure escapism in the cinema, Jason Statham is one of the default ‘go to’ guys to seek out with every release.

Derbyshire-born Statham’s athleticism again comes in handy in this story of a thief who doesn’t want to steal from the poor or hurt innocent people, Parker has been directed by Helen Mirren’s husband, Taylor Hackford – the current Director’s Guild of America president who doesn’t actually make that many movies himself.

Although he has directed two Oscar winners, Hackford can be a touch pedestrian at times as The Devil’s Advocate, Proof of Life and Ray have all illustrated.

Hackford might also now be 69, but Parker is a typical, action-heavy Statham movie: bad people get beaten up and killed.

The difference is that Statham is increasingly vulnerable – thanks to injuries which clearly ought to be far more debilitating than they are.

Perhaps we should refer to the stubbled one as J-Sta given that he’s starring opposite Jennifer Lopez.

Despite gratuitously stripping off to her undies, J-Lo’s role does not include much sizzle with her leading man, partly because they seem to be in their own movie half the time.

If Statham harbours ambitions of making a career-defining action thriller, Parker has to be seen as another opportunity lost.

Time is running out if he’s ever to match Liam Neeson (Taken) or Jean Reno (Leon) in the tough-nut pantheon. GY

Maniac * *
Cert 18, 89 mins

If you seek this stomach-churning thriller showing at Vue Star City or Odeon Broadway Plaza, you’ll almost hear JRR Tolkien spinning in his grave.

Fresh from The Lord of the Rings trilogy and more recently The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins’ star Elijah Wood now plays a serial killer who brutally murders women in order to place their scalps on his mannequins. Whatever possessed him?

The remake of William Lustig’s 1980 original is now set in Los Angeles instead of New York. With most of the action taking place from Frank’s perspective, you could argue that director Franck Khalfoun has been bold enough to put us right inside the mind of a mentally-ill killer.

Much of the film feels graphically real but I was never convinced that some of the girls would ever have trusted him in the first place. GY