JAWBONE [2017]

Directed by: Thomas Napper

Written by: Johnny Harris

Starring:  Johnny Harris, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Michael Smiley


Big thanks to Mark for turning me onto this one. You are a champ mate.

Rather than depicting boxing as the glamorous (though corrupt) sport that we often see on the big screen, Jawbone takes us to a dark place, a place where many fighters come from originally. This is a boxing film unlike most others- this isn’t a rags to riches story, in fact, it is the opposite. Jimmy was a former champion at a young age, but his inner demons surface as film starts. It really hammers home the dark place Jimmy is in- it starts very dark visually as we as see Jimmy slamming home a bottle of spirits.

After stumbling home and passing out on the floor, we see photos of perhaps a family that has left him due to his problems. The next time Jimmy goes out and arrives home, he finds an eviction notice on his door. Desperate to find a place to sleep, he climbs onto to roof of his gym, sneaking inside to find a place to sleep.

Bill, an always excellent Ray Winstone, is the head coach of the gym. After a training session, he bluntly tells Jimmy that if he sees a bottle, or even smells alcohol in his breath, he is out. He also gives him his opinion on unregulated boxing- it is safe to say that he isn’t a fan of it. Winstone plays the character perfectly, he is given great dialogue that really demonstrates how strained the relationship is between the two. He is extremely assertive when talking to Jimmy, while other times he’ll simply ignore him. It is a similar situation with Eddie, another coach played excellently by Michael Smiley. He does a great job of battling Jimmy verbally, yet they remain close friends, such is the atmosphere of a well run martial arts gym.

The team atmosphere of the gym is like a family, and in addition to helping young people, the gym is the only place where people care about Jimmy and want him to improve, despite his behaviour, and more importantly, to stay away from alcohol. Boxing, Karate, whatever the art is, it teaches discipline and other lessons than can be applied to real life. The final act is a little cliched, but it isn’t predictable like most boxing films as the first two acts depict Jimmy as a washed up drunk who has lost his skills. His character progression is particularity well done, and when it is time to fight, we have no idea where his skills are at, not to mention his mental state.

This UK indie is bleak, distressing and often uncomfortable to watch. Whenever Jimmy is holding a bottle of grog, you can’t help but scream in your head NO! Don’t! These scenes are always shot in low light, matching the darkness we are seeing as Jimmy tries his best not to drink. It is not easy to watch as it is dark and gritty as Jimmy battles himself and his addiction. The numerous close facial shots nail his struggle – Johnny Harris is amazing as Jimmy, especially during the close facial shots. His character Jimmy is so well written that you will feel for him as he looks at the bottle, battling those awful cravings that can tale control of one’s life. He attends an AA meeting but can’t bring himself to introduce himself when asked if there are any people there for the first time.

Probably due to alcohol, Jimmy needs money. Badly. Despite Bill’s stern warning that he does not approve of unregulated boxing, Jimmy finds a fight against an unbeaten fighter who every one expects to dominate Jimmy and hurt him badly.

Jimmy climbs into the gym to sleep for yet another night, and he finds that Bill is there and they eventually sit down for a cuppa tea. Bill tells Jimmy that he knows that he has been sleeping in the gym, and he also knows that he has an unregulated fight coming soon. The conversation turns to darker territory and Bill eventually leaves, leaving Jimmy to ponder and think about everything that has just been said.

As Mark so adequately put it, this is not a film where Jimmy will a be champion. He was when he was younger, but the alcohol and obvious mental health issues changed him and everyone in the gym knows it. There is no major showdown for a championship. He is fighting in the underground world of boxing, in fights that aren’t regulated; such is his desperation for money. But is it to buy alcohol, or to use it wisely? The final act is thoroughly entertaining with some unique camerawork to demonstrate the disorientation one feels when being punched in the head over and over. The final scene is quite powerful as we learn where Jimmy wants to go next with his life.

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Jawbone is an excellent film, especially for boxing fans, as it turns the usual formula used for most boxing movies on their head. Jimmy’s battle with alcohol is a perfect story-line to run parallel to his struggle to get back into the form he used to possess. This isn’t a pleasant film, but it is certainly powerful, and one of the best boxing films in existence. Jimmy’s struggle with alcohol is extremely confronting, and unlike films like Trainspotting, there isn’t a pinch of humour to be found. Every time he is in a place that serves alcohol we wonder, and worry, if he is going to drink again. This is a very bleak film that that will stick with you due to the powerful story. It’s a pity that so few people will see it.

One short of a sixer, but very, very close to a full six-pack

5/6