Stars: Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Michael Smiley, Johnny Harris
Released: May 12th 2017 (UK)
Reviewer: Van Connor
There’s an integral moment in Lasse Hallström’s culinary drama The Hundred Foot Journey in which revered chef Helen Mirren reveals that her interview technique for prospective new hires is the preparation of an omelette. It’s a moment that springs to mind when you learn that Jawbone is that seemingly most common of beasts – the underdog boxing drama – and yet, like the central character’s triumphant dish in Hallström’s picture, Jawbone is a mouthwatering delight. Like Rocky by way of I, Daniel Blake, it’s a boxing drama with genuine meat on its bones. A staggering debut by first-time writer Johnny Harris, it’s a white knuckle tale that never pulls its punches.
Harris plays the latest addition to the cinematic pantheon of underdog boxers, Jimmy McCabe. Beaten down and long past the point of rock bottom, Jimmy finds his way back to the estranged home he’d long put behind him – that of a local boxing gym run by sage owner Bill (Ray Winstone). As Bill and corner man Eddie (Michael Smiley) begin to aid Jimmy in rebuilding both his competitive prowess and sense of self-worth, the temptations which led him astray in the first place soon begin to rise again, forcing Jimmy to chose between the only home he’s ever known and the prospect of returning to life outside of the fold.
Also the narrative debut of director Thomas Napper, Jawbone – against all odds and existing within a decidedly crowded sub-genre – emerges a champion effort. Working with a tight focus, a stirring score by Paul Weller, and a suitably intense visual palette from ’71 cinematographer Tat Radcliffe, this is a London-set feature that takes the best of two decades of sub-Eastenders mockney grime flicks, and concerns itself more with creating a sustainable sense of atmosphere than anything else. Punchy and clocking in at a lean ninety-one minutes, Jawbone’s unlikely to set minds ablaze with the originality of it’s story, but – with writing of serious substance by Harris – it will captivate nonetheless.
As a lead, Harris – generally seen as a background player for most of his career to date – makes for a startlingly powerful performer, bolstered by masterful support from the always excellent Michael Smiley. Even Ray Winstone gets to shake off his well-worn patois for something of depth, and with Ian McShane chewing the scenery – yet never skimping on his brand of devilish charm – Jawbone stands as firmly at the behest of its cast as it does its behind-the-camera talent. It’s a real surprise, stocked with more gravitas than the majority of its would-be rivals – certainly a giant leap above last year’s parodically poor Bleed For This, at the very least – and showing off a surprisingly enthralling talent (both on and off-screen) in Johnny Harris, Jawbone is not to be missed.