dir Thomas Napper
scr Johnny Harris
prd Michael Elliott, Johnny Harris
with Johnny Harris, Michael Smiley, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Luke JI Smith, Anna Wilson-Hall, Neil Bradley, Stacey Lynn Crowe, Amrita Jazzmyn, Ernest Vernon, Lee Latham, Patricia Winker
release UK 12.May.17
17/UK 1h31
Back in the ring: Harris and Smiley

harris winstone mcshane
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Jawbone An unusually thoughtful boxing drama, this gritty British film follows a man who is at rock bottom trying to find just a glimmer of self-respect. The plot itself might be somewhat forced, but the actors are excellent, and there is proper resonance in the characters and situations. It's also made in such an earthy, realistic style that the audience can't help but be drawn in.

Evicted from his flat as his building is set for demolition, Jimmy (Harris) turns to his old boxing trainer Bill (Winstone), assuring him that he has given up booze and unlicenced fighting, and that he wants to get back into shape. While Eddie (Smiley) coaches Jimmy in the gym, Jimmy turns to gangster Joe (McShane) for help, accepting an underground fight against a fierce opponent (Smith). And as he keeps this a secret from Bill and Eddie, they have some secrets of their own.

While Harris' script is relatively straightforward, the way it's brought to life adds layers of interest. His central performance is raw and earthy, making Jimmy remarkably likeable for a guy whose hot temper has got him into such a perilous place in life. He is the architect of his own fall, but he also clearly wants to do better. Winstone and McShane offer powerful performances in smaller roles, while Smiley gets another chance to shine as a man who does what he knows is right even when it bends the rules.

Napper directs the film in an almost documentary style. The fight scenes are shot without slow motion or a rousing score as fierce punch-outs so real that we can feel every fist. But the film also isn't scruffy or messy; it's slickly shot and edited to make the most of every scene, so holds the attention and sympathy even when the story takes the occasional far-fetched turn or falls into another predictable scenario.

Even with these hiccups, the film feels fresh and honest, grappling meaningful with the deeper issues in Jimmy's life. His alcoholism is never sensationalised at all, while his fight preparation doesn't rely on the usual inspiring montage. In fact, he seems woefully outclassed in the climactic bout, even though we know that there's a scrappy tough guy lurking under the skin of this loser. This is a sharply written, directed and played film that continually catches the audience aback, and it leaves us with plenty to think about in our own lives as well.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 31.Jan.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall