Jawbone review: squares up against personal demons

12th May 2017


Jawbone on first appearances is a rather macho affair with all its boxing, illegal fight clubs and Ray Winstones’s cockney boldness but in fact there are more universal themes at the core of this film, touching on topics such as alcoholism, poverty, homelessness, loneliness and loss. The film is a commendable effort with slick directing style, high calibre acting and an intricate storyline that all making it an engrossing watch.

Jimmy McCabe (Johnny Harris), a former boxing champion, after years of alcohol abuse and the recent passing of his mother, he is suddenly evicted from his flat and is now found himself homeless. Reaching rock bottom, he decides to give up the booze and turn a new leaf, returning to boxing once again. He grovels back to the gym where he originally trained and was subsequently thrown out, due to his drinking. Gym owner Bill (Ray Winston) and trainer Eddie (Michael Smiley) after much hesitation allow him to come back, but are oblivious to the fact he is breaking into the gym every night, sleeping on the couch in the office. Still broke and in need of money fast, he reverts to his criminal days and pursues a boxing match on the black market by hooking up with an old acquaintance, Ian McShane’s Joe Padgett, in a typical role as the owner of a posh restaurant, a front for his illegal side businesses. As the film unfolds, Jimmy’s self-reflection and self-realization post alcohol abuse, take precedence over the looming fight.

Harris, who is also responsible for the screenplay and previous work include This Is England and London To Brighton, gives a flawless portrayal as the down-trodden, complex and introverted Jimmy. Jimmy navigates through his world, in a sombre manner; his loneliness not by choice; but the harsh outcome of his poor life decisions. And even through his limited dialogue, we get the full essence of Jimmy; his eyes and the wrinkles on his face speak volumes. Winston is a sure fit the hard-talking East London Bill whose tough exterior reveals a soft heart but is dealt with a deadly prognosis with only months to live. Furthermore, trainer Eddie played by equally credible Smiley, who becomes a crutch for Jimmy, giving him the attention he had been starved of, for years.

Cinematically Jawbone at points look like a manga animation with its melancholic mood, the abundance of dark scenes, the constant rain, Jimmy continuously hiding under a hoodie and monosyllabic dialogue, the constant rain.  The directing style by newbie director Thomas Napper, is glossy; the scenes from one to the other are seamed together smoothly. The boxing ring scene, especially the final climactic one, are executed masterfully; with subtle effects, possessing a realistic gritty quality as the boxers’ batter each other to a pulp.

There are moments in the film which feel formulaic; like the put-on mockney banter or the restauranteur Padgett’s clichéd character but even so, Jawbone refreshingly combines the macho bravado that usually inhabit boxing films with a more socio-psychological aspect. Napier is able convey its underlying message through Jimmy’s personal story of addiction, depression and loss. Napier puts Jimmy’s personal battle of conquering his own demons above that of winning without it appearing contrived or corny.

By Daniel Theophanous

Jawbone is released on the May, 12, 2017

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