Director: Thomas Napper
Cast: Johnny Harris, Michael Smiley, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane
Watch Jawbone online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Boxing films are a sub-genre that seem to refuse to die, despite the majority operating within the same general framework. These tales of often very fragile men, working in a realm in which society (or their own personality) seems to dictate they must remain, endure, likely due to the fact that they can have an awful lot of visual panache when told by a filmmaker with a real eye, while also having stories that are relatable for a great swathe of people watching them. Jawbone adds to this with its tale of Jimmy McCabe, a down-but-not-out brawler, who needs to fight his own demons before taking on his opponents.
A ”hey, that guy” of UK film and TV for decades, Johnny Harris writes and stars as the fighter whose best years are behind him, both professionally and personally. Instead of giving him a backstory of failed relationships and lost loves, the film assumes we know the toll that alcoholism can take and instead spends its time focusing on how Jimmy finds himself at an ultimate low and tries all he can to get out of it. Harris obviously cares deeply about the material and puts in a genuinely upsetting performance, reminiscent of a traumatised dog, capable of lashing out after years of abuse but with moments where you can see the pure fear and hurt coursing through him. His physicality is extraordinary, managing to move from a perpetually hungover, red-eyed waste to a fighting fit specimen. He’s wholly convincing as both.
The supporting cast aren’t bad, either. There is a chunky supporting role for Michael Smiley as Eddie, the right-hand man to gym owner Bill (Ray Winstone). He at first appears to be a subservient figure, but through the runtime, he shows off his own strengths, his admiration for Bill and both his frustration and hope in helping Jimmy turn the corner. Winstone and Ian McShane (as promoter Joe) get less to do and maybe don’t stretch themselves, but they’re more than welcome presences.
Thomas Napper may well also be a name to take note of. A prolific second-unit director making his feature debut, he really shows an impressive game with the film’s climactic fight, a bruising, gruelling endurance test that only lasts 10 minutes but feels like 0 rounds. A mix of wide-angle and what at times are almost fist-first perspectives feel like something you’ve not seen before – considering the amount of boxing films out there, that’s a hell of a thing to achieve.
An impressive writing and directing debut from Harris and Napper respectively, Jawbone rightly places itself among the legion of damn fine boxing movies, which will leave you feeling both uplifted and really quite tearful by the credits. A very worthwhile hour and a half.
Jawbone is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.
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