by Christie Robb
If Tim Roth is attached to a project, I’m intrigued. In Punch, he’s playing Stan, the alcoholic father of 17-year old up-and-coming boxer Jim (Jordan Oosterhof). Stan’s been training Jim since elementary school. It’s a familiar story—small town kid hoping to get out by nurturing his athletic talent.
In this case, the small town is located in picturesque New Zealand and what the town has going for it in terms of rolling grassland and beaches is more than ruined by the small-minded racism and rampant homophobia of its residents.
One day, while blowing off his training to pursue his true passion of shooting footage for music videos, young Jim is stung by a jellyfish and is rescued by Whetu (a resplendent Conan Hayes). Whetu is both Maori in what appears to be a majority White town and openly gay.
Jim will have to navigate his growing feelings for Whetu, the pressure of his dad’s dreams for his future, and the demands of all the various folks around town who want to define the man he will become.
The first feature written and directed by Welby Ings, Punch‘s story and timeline feel a bit uneven. Most of the film has a meandering, dreamy pace that is an appropriate touch for the organic way the boys’ relationship develops. But, this is set in contrast to the ticking clock established at the beginning of the film with an upcoming crucial boxing match and, later on, by Stan’s growing ill health.
Some of the character development is uneven as well, and sadly Roth is a let down here as Stan veers dramatically from a tyrannical figure to an empathetic shoulder for Jim to cry on without earning that moment. Similarly, the ending seems abrupt and also, perhaps, not quite earned.
Matt Henley’s cinematography, though, is atmospheric and gorgeous and elevates the film, especially in the scenes Whetu and Jim spend together. They are a delight to watch.