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Jawbone: Film Review


Adam Thorn

There have been plenty of boxing films through the years, some good, quite a few more which were not any good. Does anyone remember the Calcium Kid fondly, for example? But where does Jawbone, another low key British effort, sit? Is it able to throw, or even better pack a punch?

Jawbone shares similarities with a lot of the most well-known pugilistic cinema, and in fact a lot of sports films in general. Underdog: check. Adversity: check. Climactic fight at the end: check. What Jawbone does differently is approach a lot of the themes much more maturely. There is no certainty that Jimmy McCabe, played by Johnny Harris, who also wrote the film, is going to overcome any of his issues. And they are plentiful.

An alcoholic, who opens the film passed out in front of a video of his winning the ABA final at sixteen, McCabe is in a bad way. Grieving for his mother and in danger of losing his flat he turns to his old amateur gym, and coach Bill (Ray Winstone) in particular. Jimmy wants to train, but is warned by this tough love man; no booze-at all, and no “unlicensed” fights.

It is strongly implied that what the film means by unlicensed is underworld or unregulated fights. Not what those in the real-life boxing game would mean by unlicensed, which are insured, above board, and made as safe for the boxers as is possible. Jimmy clearly had a past in the murkier side of boxing. But an opportunity presents itself through an old contact, and out of necessity Jimmy takes it. Ian McShane’s shady character Joe, is not an honest man, that much is obvious immediately.

There is a fight going, Joe explains. But the kid is beating people up for fun, and he's bigger than you. Jimmy is warned at length of the danger of his opponent, then told, “the worst that can happen is that you walk out of there with £2500.” It is categorically not the worst that can happen to Jimmy. He’s past his best, desperate, drying out, and has been warned the man is a wrecking ball. Boxing fans need no reminder lately of what dangers fighters are faced with.

Here we have our set up. Is Jimmy able to overcome his multitude of issues, not least his strained relationships in the gym with coaches Bill and Eddie (Michael Smiley)? Will he even get to the fight, let alone win it? He’s presented as such an outsider, and the film has a sombre tone, that anything could have happened in the end. This is what was so engrossing about the film.

While not a film of sweeping landscapes, it never needed to be, Jawbone is brilliantly shot and the boxing scenes are gritty and in parts brutally exciting. Particularly the bear pit of a fighting ring towards the end. The dialogue is believable, leaving enough room for the viewer to think, not pressing points home too much. Only when tough words are needed are they used. Paul Weller’s score is fittingly understated.

By the end Jawbone is enthralling. While it somewhat resembles Rocky, it’s Rocky spliced with Tyrannosaur (2011) by Paddy Considine; as the viewer may or may not like the protagonist, in this case Jimmy, due to his issues. This realism may not be for everyone, particularly Americans. But Jawbone is enthralling, especially as you begin to care for all of the main characters, the amoral Joe aside. As much about the fights faced in life as in the ring. Jawbone is a boxing film for boxing people.

Strongly recommended.

8/10

 

Posted: 17th Jun 2017

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