Jawbone does not hide from what works. It’s creators value that sports dramas work at an emotional level. With fighting sports, it serves to a much higher degree. If you are unfamiliar with what I mean; Warrior is a film that manages to exhilarate and exhaust your emotions at the same. It is apparent that in film form we become easily succumbed by the wounded underdog story. I have been suckered by this plenty of times.
In the case of Jawbone, it does not replicate what you would expect in a modern day fight film. The pace is slow but majorly well managed. The wounded underdog is Jimmy McCabe (Johnny Harris), an alcoholic and an intensely stubborn character. The man is so proud that he refuses to allow the local authorities to rehouse him despite the pending demolition of his flat. His situation ultimately leads him to his childhood boxing gym where he reunites with gym owner Bill and corner-man Eddie, which initially is met with concern and resistance.
The movie itself is not really about boxing or how to box. In fact, the entire story places Jimmy’s demons on the table. Getting over his mother’s death, becoming sober and getting his sorry life back on track is the priority. With this being the integral plot component, it is obvious that director Thomas Napper did not allow Jawbone to become an awe-inspiring spectacle where the sport itself becomes paramount. Most of the shots are on Jimmy. He is the spectacle. A sweaty, distressed ex-boxer whose life is on the precipice of almost eternal despair captures your attention. With the associated characters showing obvious scepticism it is difficult to not hesitate your feelings for him. In fact, sometimes I barely felt anything, which is where my problems with the movie first came to me.
Jawbone does well with a gritty, grey movie where the events speak for themselves. It does, however, fall sort with connecting with the audience. Despite the sadness of the character’s situation, it becomes difficult to care. Even with his ultimate goal which is to have an unofficial licensed fight you do not feel enthralled or curious to how the story will reach a conclusion. I believe the problem arises from his goal because it feels secondary. You never really understand what Jimmy actually wants in life apart from sobriety. By the time the grandstand moments finally come, you do not feel enthralled by certain events. You almost feel like an audience member but disconnected.
Jawbone is still worth the watch despite the lack of emotional connection. The trio of actors (Johnny Harris, Ray Winstone and Michael Smiley) do a sensational job in capturing the reality of their character’s lives. It is hardly glamorous but the portrayal of graft and grit is to be appreciated.
Jawbone is no Rocky but that’s okay. What is important is Jimmy and his demons and not his ability to return to his younger form. I assure you this slow-paced movie does not become boring.
Enjoyed reading this review? Then you will probably like listening to us too, so check out our podcast.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.