Directed by Thomas Napper.
Starring Johnny Harris, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Michael Smiley.
Boxer Jimmy McCabe (Johnny Harris) has hit rock bottom. A former youth boxing champion he agrees to an unlicensed fight up north, much to the disapproval of former friends Bill (Ray Winstone) and Eddie (Michael Smiley). When he begins training at Bill’s boxing club, Eddie reluctantly agrees to accompany Jimmy north to the fight and be his corner-man.
Together with The Pyramid Texts, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki and Jawbone cast the fighter of the squared ring has a rejuvenated figure, at least in the square frame of the screen. Unlike the black and white aesthetic of its compatriots, Jawbone is vivid for its colour, in as much as it refuses to pull its punches in the violence unleashed between the ropes.
Howard Hawks lamented the fact that one shouldn’t try too hard with comedy and actor Johnny Harris’ first credit as screenwriter is an example of this sage wisdom from one of Hollywood’s great auteurs. The film has an air of confidence. It knows precisely what it wants to be and the experience it wants to offer its audience. Yet it is not adventurous, rather it is a simple narrative that rides on the back of its down on his luck protagonist living out a future he could have avoided because of past decisions. With this narrative inherently comes regret, forgiveness, the reunion of friends of old, what be might said are the archetypal building blocks with which to tell a story with heart, while of course striking at the emotional sensibilities of the audience.
There is nothing idle or lacklustre in Harris’ writing or Thomas Napper’s direction. Stories such as Jawbone are hurtling toward a violent altercation, here one that creates a pulsating dread, an unsettling anxiety that mixes hope with fear. The antagonistic cause of this sense of foreboding dread is absent, an antagonist built up through words alone – sparing words that reveals Harris’ economy with the pen. The Goliath like figure Jimmy will step into the ring with is a product of our imagination, yet when the inevitable bout comes around the ferocity and intimidation of the staging pushes the tension to breaking point as every punch and blow reaches beyond the screen.
The supporting cast of Michael Smiley, Ray Winstone and Ian McShane all show what is seemingly an innate ability to hold the scene with a strength of presence. But never are the words spoken taken for granted, the dialogue means something with silence preferred if words should fail to express the emotions or thoughts of a given moment. That the performances draw our eye is of little surprise, its actor-screenwriter writing to his characters with an intimate understanding of the way an actor will read their character on the page and breathe life into them.
While the climactic fight stands up to some of the finest cinematic bouts, it may come to overshadow the memory of the subtler character moments. Yet the edge of the seat drama of blood and sweat is only a testament to the subtler moments of the film that set us up for a thrilling conclusion.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★