Boxing Under Shadows
The sport has been around in some form or another since early Man was bobbing and weaving his way across the globe, in fact Adam probably headed down the local amateur boxing gym while Eve was busy making cider. Obviously it has dramatically evolved over the eons and it isn’t the brutal carnage that it once was. But that doesn’t mean the battles/bouts are any less of a crushing crusade. There are many facets to pugilism, the grace, the ballet, the punishment, the training, for the winners harnessing mind over matter, but in many ways it still represents a distillation of great Wars, the best representatives of opposing armies stepping up toe to toe for honour, grace and salvation. Or it can be the metaphorical internal fight with ones demons. Indeed, it can cruelly even be both.
There’s hardly a dearth of boxing movies jabbing for attention, so it can be hard to get the heart racing from excitement when word of a new contender enters the ring. More often than not the desire to represent the voyage across the career stained ringed canvas ends up fighting well above it’s weight, only to leave the copper taste of failure in your mouth. But now and again some true champions step up into the deserved limelight.
We recently had the outstanding ‘The Pyramid Texts’ (2016) which took on various aspects of the boxing universe, certainly from the poetic perspective of a fighter who had spent his whole life battle ready and war hardened. And now we have the excellent sawdust and spit grittiness of ‘Jawbone’ (2017) by Thomas Napper. It’s Napper’s feature debut, but it’s already very clear he’s going to last the distance.
Scripted by Johnny Harris who plays the down on his luck protagonist Jimmy McCabe. Harris had sparred and shown much promise within the boxing world in his youth and subsequently went on to have more unfortunate rounds with alcohol, another theme that soaks the pages of the movie. Though the movie isn’t a biography, there are profound truths being expressed and expelled in every landed emotional punch, and at times that honesty stings, and rightly so.
McCabe is not so much down on his luck, as about to give up completely. The ref of life has counted to 8 and it’s pretty much over. But as in the greatest of stories there’s a fire that refuses to go out. That light once raged like a power plant furnace, however that was a long time ago, but the memory is still there to reignite the forge. Like a fighter losing his trainer, his mum has recently passed, the council are throwing him out of his home, everything that held him together is being pounded out of him as cruel right hooks land one after another. He tries to find solace in drink, all the while knowing from his years of training that wins only come from purity of body, then mind.
With a fighters intuition or indeed muscle memory, he begins to surround himself with people of integrity in the boxing fraternity who have survived the storms of life, but like Samuel Beckett wear their stories scribed into their faces. However, McCabe has much repentance to endure before the prodigal son can return in any form at all.
What the movie may give in considered sparsity, simplicity more than makes up for the heavyweights who turn up. In a sport where it effectively boils down to all focus on two individuals, it’s great to see a small cast that is made up of the stellar heritage of Ray Winstone (who used to box for Repton Amateur Boxing Club), Ian McShane (who’s clearly on his way to his role in the stunning ‘American Gods) and the always sheer delight that is Michael Smiley (everyone should have Smiley in their corner). Added into this incredible and sincere mix is the unquestionable talents of boxing legend Barry McGuigan and trainer Shane McGuigan who were consultants on the production, and it’s starkly clear it’s brutal realism, with some of the best fight choreography around.
It’s not all blood, bruises and battles though, there’s a simply gorgeous and gentle soundtrack provided by none other than music legend Paul Weller, bringing a beautiful, gentle and humane balance to the open wounds, both real and metaphorical.
There may be much familiarity about the movie, but you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you take a journey. The tale explodes with heart wrenching honesty and a fantastic performance by Harris, it looks wonderful and you can tell that everyone is truly on board and in the team corner cheering for their man, and so will you.
9/10 ‘Jawbone’ is showing in select cinemas in the UK. Check Jawbone – The Movie on Facebook for more information.