By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist April 12, 2011 at 2:03AM
Update: Deadline reveals that the film will shoot in July (leaving plenty of room for "Anna Karenina") with the film drawing comparisons to "Heat."
Of the current generation of leading men, James McAvoy might be one of our favorites. We first noticed him doing sterling British TV work on top-quality projects like "Early Doors," "Shameless" and "State of Play," but he went on to prove his big-screen chops with a trio of strong, diverse performances in "Starter For Ten," "The Last King Of Scotland" and "Atonement." Since then, he's worked carefully across a broad range of projects -- even in the unpleasant, noisy blockbuster "Wanted," he proved a charming lead while demonstrating his action moves, and he's got his biggest role to date coming up, as the young Charles Xavier in "X-Men: First Class."
It's always tricky to predict his next move, but, while he's been linked to massive projects like the now-defunct "At the Mountains of Madness," "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" and "Akira," it looks as if he'll use his next slot to return to the U.K. for a smaller project, working with one of the most promising young British directors on a project that's more than a little exciting. McAvoy was on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" last night, along with Robert Redford and most of the rest of the cast of "The Conspirator" -- the Lincoln assassination drama that opens on Friday -- and, while somehow resisting the temptation to punch the host in his doughy face (he's a better man than us, clearly...), the actor let slip that his next project will be a film called "Welcome to the Punch."
The project's been on our radar since last year, when it placed highly on the annual Brit List, a collection of the best unmade screenplays in the U.K. The film's from writer-director Eran Creevy, who made an exceptional debut a couple of years back with the super-low-budget drama "Shifty," which starred Daniel Mays ("Made in Dagenham," "Red Riding") as a man returning to his home town to discover that his best friend, the titular Shifty (Riz Ahmed, of "Four Lions" fame), had become a coke dealer. The film was made for around £100,000, as part of Film London's Microwave scheme, but managed an enormous amount on that tiny budget, picking up five British Independent Film Awards, and has become something of a cult success in the U.K., although it never saw a release in the States -- watch the trailer below.
The follow-up, which sees Creevy again working with "Shifty" producers Rory Aitken and Ben Pugh, is far bigger in scope, a crime thriller in the vein of "Heat" -- Creevy described it at one stage as '"Shifty" meets Michael Mann meets "The Last Boy Scout."' It involves a London detective, Max Lewinsky (the role we imagine is earmarked for McAvoy), whose old nemesis, an armed robber known as Red Diesel, reappears after five years away -- but it's only the tip of a massive conspiracy. The script's mostly very strong, a gripping cop thriller with a scope and a level of action that's quite uncommon for the British film industry, and with Creevy at the helm, we can see why McAvoy would want to get involved.
We've reached out to McAvoy's reps for confirmation, but as yet haven't heard anything back, however, considering the news came from the actor's own mouth, it seems very likely that this is happening. It's unclear when the film's going to go before cameras, and indeed what it would mean for McAvoy's involvement with "Anna Karenina" -- Joe Wright told us last week that he'd offered a role in his Tolstoy adaptation to his "Atonement" star, and was waiting to hear back from him and we reckon that perhaps there will be some schedule juggling if he wants to do both. Still, we're very excited about "Welcome to the Punch," and look forward to hearing more about the project -- including additional casting, there being a good half-dozen juicy roles up for grabs, and we're expecting names of McAvoy's caliber to be lining up alongside him.