This is another film that combines personal conflict with tough fighting in the ring. Actor and screenwriter, Johnny Harris plays Jawbone’s main character Jimmy McCabe, and he based this boxing-drama on his own experience as a homeless ex-boxer in London. As much as I think boxing films are overdone, I keep being drawn back to this genre. It’s like an addiction that I can’t knock on the head. So, is Jawbone another cliched boxing movie, or does it offer something new? Let’s find out!
Jawbone isn’t too far away from what a director like Ken Loach (dir. I, Daniel Blake) would come up with if he decided to make a boxing film. It’s an independent British film, so it’s got that low-budget, gloomy vibe. The feel-good Hollywood factor is nowhere to be found here. This is the story of a guy not trying to break into boxing per se, but instead a story about someone who’s desperate to rebuild his life, by using the sport as an anchor.
When we first meet Jimmy, he’s stumbling through the mean streets of London, drunk and dishevelled. Before long, he finds out he’s going to be evicted from his council flat because the block of flats are going to be knocked down. A visit to the benefits office to sort out his living arrangements leads to Jimmy losing his temper when his cry for help isn’t met with a warm welcome.
Clearly, his life is a mess. He’s an alcoholic with nowhere to live. How can it get any worse? It’s no surprise then, to see him seek refuge in a boxing club.
It’s the same club that saw Jimmy rise through the ranks as a junior boxing champion. Unfortunately, his drink problem put an end to all that years ago. Now, Jimmy’s back and wants to train again for one last fight. Bill (Ray Winstone) and Eddie (Michael Smiley) run the club and they’re both sceptical at first. You see it in their eyes as soon as Jimmy walks into the gym, but they let him train, keeping him under close watch.
Bill gives Jimmy a private dressing-down, where he basically says that he calls the shots and that he won’t stand for any trouble. It’s a great bit of East End, no-nonsense by Ray Winstone. With so much British rawness and with a cast that features some fine names, Jawbone was always guaranteed to be watchable. It feels like a deeply personal project and while it doesn’t break any new ground, there’s still a fresh takeaway.
As I’m somebody who doesn’t know a whole lot about boxing, I thought Jawbone came across as very real. The fight scenes are viscerally entertaining and extremely well put together. It has one of the better fictional boxing matches that I’ve seen in recent memory. If a boxing movie has poorly choreographed scenes in the ring, then it’s lost me.
This is something I discussed when I reviewed Hands of Stone earlier this year. Having good, believable action in the ring is the foundation of any boxing film. Get it wrong and it’s game over, a bit like when a comedy isn’t funny.
Jawbone is rooted in a reality that I could easily identify with, which is mainly because it’s set in London. Harris is terrific as Jimmy and you really believe that this man’s life has completely fallen apart. He spends a lot of his time walking alongside the Thames, glaring into the dark waters as if he’s thinking about jumping in. Melodrama aside, I still would have liked to see more development with the overall plot and characters.
Once Jimmy’s motives and backstory are established, the narrative rushes, almost self-knowingly towards the inevitable fight. That’s the problem I had with it, but I was pleased with how the film turned out as a whole.
Maybe there isn’t anything new to say about the washed-up boxer. But at least Jawbone tries to go in a different direction and doesn’t completely follow the well-trodden path. Unlike many other boxing movies, Jimmy is in a downward spiral from the start, and you never really see him at a high. So, the film tells a story with an original angle, but it can’t help playing up to those genre conventions.
All in all, Jawbone is a smack-down of realism, an intense close-up of a man trying to get his life back on track.
Director: Thomas Napper
Writer: Johnny Harris
Stars: Johnny Harris, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Michael Smiley.
Distributor: Vertigo Films
Run Time: 91 min.
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