Watched: 15 September
If you’ve seen more than two or three boxing dramas in your life you might well be nonplussed by the premise of Jawbone, the British debut by Thomas Napper, written by and starring Johnny Harris (London To Brighton). Harris plays Jimmy McCabe, formerly a promising youth boxer, now in his 30s, homeless and struggling with alcoholism; and if that sounds to you like a rote Great White Hope character just waiting to find redemption in the ring, then you’ll probably be unsurprised to hear that in his hour of need Jimmy looks to his old backstreet boxing gym for sanctuary, where Ray Winstone’s ailing gym owner Bill and Michael Smiley’s seen-it-all corner man Eddie reluctantly offer to help.
Despite being heavily reliant on such underdog sports drama cliches, Jawbone is better than it sounds, thanks mainly to three committed performances by the actors mentioned above (Smiley in particular is fast becoming one of the more reliable British character actors working today). It also benefits from some excellent cinematography by Tat Radcliffe, who wanders into the thick of the action during the film’s only notable bout, an illegal match organised by Ian McShane’s promoter that takes place in an extremely hostile northern venue (indeed so volatile is the crowd during this scene it’s a surprise not to see an establishing shot of Jimmy and Eddie on their way up the M1 passing a ‘Here Be Dragons’ sign, or something similar). Perhaps it’s a result of budgetary constraints, but the film feels on the short side at 91 minutes, which is a shame – I could have stood another 20 or 30 minutes and some more character development to add a little more depth. (***)