9 out of 10
Release date: 12th May 2017
Director: Thomas Napper
Cast: Johnny Harris, Ray Winstone, Michael Smiley, Luke J I Smith, Jackie Clune, Simon Manyonda and Ian McShane
Writer: Johnny Harris
Remember the Coen Bros film, Barton Fink, when the titular screenwriter is tasked by Hollywood to write a B-movie about a wrestler? “You know, nothing to fruity. It’s a wrestling flick, what do you want, a road map?” Well, Jawbone is about a boxer and pretty much everything you’d expect to see in a boxing flick is present and correct. However, this one has the beating heart of a lion, and boxing scenes quite unlike you’ve seen in anything since Raging Bull. Johnny Harris (FORTITUDE), a good actor who knows his range, plays to his strengths in this self-scripted effort about an alcoholic, Jimmy McCabe, who reconnects with his boxing past when he is made homeless and sees the rocky bottom staring back up at him. He goes back to the gym to find his former trainers Bill (RAY WINSTONE – NIL BY MOUTH) and Eddie (MICHAEL SMILEY – SPACED), where he became an ABA champ at 16. The welcome is frosty but they give him a chance. Elsewhere, he gets himself a make or break fight via promoter and shady old friend, Joe (IAN MCSHANE – THE GOLDEN COMPASS) that could kill him.
On the negative side, it does take a while for this film to shake off the cliches and grab your attention. But in retrospect these scenes do well to build the character of Jimmy, and to show what’s really at stake. We’re aware his demon is the bottle and possibly self-made – there’s no spectres from the past whispering in his ear or goading him ala My Name Is Lenny. The struggle is realistically wrought and played note perfect by Johnny Harris. Elsewhere in the cast, old pros like Ray Winstone and Ian McShane do their thing. Ian McShane is always good and wheels out his ‘flash harry’ schtick. This time the context is right and the one scene that his promoter Joe turns up for is nicely done. He’s essentially the same guy he played in John Wick, or nicer version of his heavy in Sexy Beast. Winstone successfully steals the show, some may say unfairly, with an understated and touching performance. He’s quite wonderful in one of his best roles in years and years, and it’s his character that raises Jawbone out of the ‘just another boxing movie’ crate.
Michael Smiley brings ample support and is amazing as the salty Belfast trainer, who has a few surprises up his sleeve. Thankfully there’s no obligatory, woman or child character to slow the story down. There’s no ex-wife or kids to make amends with, just old friends to haunt. The boxing scenes are technically terrific and even after seeing 100 sports movies, the climatic fight is gripping. The villainy of the opponent (LUKE J I SMITH – THE BROMLEY BOYS) is well evoked in a wordless role. The camera work and sound design is superb. Even the montage scenes work well, and although necessary, they don’t fall into the pop video end like a lot seem to do. Remember the ‘Pushing Back’ song from Green Street 3? This is done by bring up the sounds of the gym, dialogue or street sounds to the fore front, rather than making a corny Survivor wannabe song front and centre. Jawbone’s closest comparison is Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. It’s not quite as good as the latter that’s because its more focussed yet slighter, narrative-wise. But it’s still the best sports movie we can hope for from the UK, when so many try and fail horribly – remember the muddled The Man Inside?
Look out for a Paul Weller song at the end called ‘The Ballad of Jimmy McCabe’. I’m glad the makers didn’t use this over a training montage, as it’s as corny as hell and threatens to undo some of the sterling work that’s gone before. A slight wrinkle, then, yet nothing to worry about. Utterly recommended.
9 out of 10 – If you think sports movies are all the same, you’re right. But if you like them then Jawbone is a superb example that puts 90% of others to shame. Pretty much film perfection
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Johnny Harris: This Is England ’90 (TV), Fortitude (TV), Monsters 2, Last Days On Mars, Welcome To The Punch, Snow White & The Huntsman, Huge, This Is England 88 (TV), This Is England 86 (TV), Black Death, Dorian Gray, London To Brighton
- Ray Winstone: Point Break (2015), The Legend of Barney Thompson, The Gunman, Noah, Lords of London, Ashes, The Hot Potato, The Sweeney Movie, Snow White & The Huntsman, Elfie Hopkins, Tracker, Hugo, London Boulevard, Fathers Of Girls, The Devil’s Tomb, Rango (voice), Sex & Drugs & Rock-N-Roll, 44 Inch Chest, Edge Of Darkness, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skulls, Fool’s Gold, Breaking and Entering, The Departed, Cold Mountain, Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe (voice), The Proposition, King Arthur (2004), Ripley’s Game, The Martins, Last Orders, Sexy Beast, There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble, Nil By Mouth, Love Honour and Obey, Fanny and Elvis, Final Cut, Martha – Meet Daniel Luke and Laurence, Face, Ladybird Ladybird, Tank Malling, Quadrophenia, Scum, Robin Of Sherwood (TV)
- Michael Smiley: The Devil Went Down To Islington, Birthmarked, Free Fire, Tank 432, Orthodox, The Aliens (TV), The Hallow, The Lobster, Luther (TV), Glassland, Black Sea, We Are The Freaks, Svengali, For Those In Peril, The World’s End, A Field In England, The ABCs of Death, Shell, Kill List, Burke & Hare, Down Terrace, Outpost, Big Fat Gypsy Gangster, Spaced (TV)
- Luke J I Smith: The Bromley Boys
- Jackie Clune: Denial
- Simon Manyonda: Dr Who (TV)
- Ian McShane: American Gods (TV), John Wick 2, Grimbsy, The Hollow Point, Ray Donovan (TV), John Wick, Hercules (2014), Jack The Giant Slayer, Cuban Fury, Snow White & The Huntsman, Pirates Of The Caribbean 4, 44 Inch Chest, Case 39, Coraline (voice), Death Race (2008), Kung Fu Panda (voice), The Golden Compass (voice), Hot Rod, Shrek 3 (voice), Deadwood (TV), Scoop, Agent Cody Banks, Sexy Beast, Lovejoy (TV), Dallas (TV)