A seemingly unpromising boxing movie of unexpected quality.


Johnny Harris and Michael Smiley


The high quality of this film came as a very welcome surprise. It is a first feature by Thomas Napper and its screenplay is by Johnny Harris who, being the star of the picture, might have been guilty of self-indulgence when creating a lead role for himself. Not a bit of it, for Harris, possessed of considerable screen presence, has what is surely his best written part since his debut in London to Brighton (2006). Furthermore, Harris's screenplay is strong enough to give fresh life to what is a rather conventional boxing drama about an ex-fighter, Harris's Jimmy McCabe, planning a comeback.


Although ultimately Jawbone has to be judged as a genre piece, it gains in impact from its portrayal of McCabe as a man in desperate straits. Following the loss of his accommodation, he is a homeless alcoholic wandering the streets of London and it is out of his despair that he seeks to train up again and to earn money by fighting even if it is only unlicensed matches that are available to him. McCabe is capable of being his own worst enemy and the film does not sentimentalise him, but these early scenes, so effectively handled by Napper in close collaboration with his photographer Tat Radcliffe (the colour tones add immeasurably to the atmosphere), share something of the tone of Ken Loach's recent I, Daniel Blake.


By introducing us to McCabe in this way, Jawbone ensures that we really feel for a man who is hoping to redeem himself even if his planned comeback may also be fuelled to some extent by his seeking the punishment that he feels that he deserves (we glimpse a photograph of a woman and a child and this invites us to speculate on the extent to which his life has gone awry). A sympathetic gym owner (Ray Winstone), a calculating promoter (Ian McShane) and a corner man initially hostile to McCabe but later sympathetic (Michael Smiley) all play their part, but Jawbone puts McCabe screen centre leading to his participation in a reckless bout in the north of England against a sadistic opponent (Luke J.I. Smith).


This film is not the stuff of which masterpieces are made but, if it lacks individuality in its storyline, all the elements nevertheless come together to create a powerful and engrossing work. When the film comes to an end one is surprised that its running length (a sensible 91 minutes) has passed so quickly: that's not often a feeling experienced with movies today. Unless this is emphatically not your kind of film, you should seek it out.




Cast: Johnny Harris, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Michael Smiley, Luke J.I. Smith, Anna Wilson-Hall.


Dir Thomas Napper, Pro Michael Elliott and Johnny Harris, Screenplay Johnny Harris, Ph Tat Radcliffe, Pro Des Nick Palmer, Ed David Charap, Music Paul Weller, Costumes Guy Speranza.


BBC Films/Creative England/EMU Films/Marlin Films/Revolution Films-Vertigo Films.
91 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 12 May 2017. Cert. 15.