Jawbone is an odd hybrid of gritty British drama, character study, and sports movie. It develops so slowly that it’s almost a surprise to see protagonist Jimmy suddenly climb into the boxing ring for a proper fight. Early scenes in council offices provoke memories of I, Daniel Blake, yet Jimmy is a far less fleshed-out character, and – at least initially – much less likable.
The first act is oppressive both emotionally and as a sensory experience. Jimmy wanders London’s streets at night to a soundtrack – by Paul Weller of all people – of disappointingly generic “atmospheric” sounds meant to suggest inner demons. The colour palette, meanwhile, is limited to the point of murky incoherence. If it weren’t for the preponderance of handheld cinematography, Jawbone would be visually even duller.
With Jimmy often alone in the early scenes there’s a dearth of gripping drama. Once he starts training Jawbone becomes faster paced, more kinetic and more engaging, yet this is also where it’s fresh, rough-around-the-edges quality collapses into more familiar underdog sports movie territory. The score, though, gets a welcome upgrade, with interesting bell sounds being layered over the haunting strings of earlier soundscapes. The fight scene is stomach-turningly brutal, yet the unrelentingly claustrophobic camerawork can be messy and frustratingly incoherent.
Jawbone’s slightly confused identity is held together by the lead performance from Johnny Harris, who, when there’s enough light to see him in, sells both the physical exertion of training and fighting, and the pain and vulnerability at Jimmy’s core. The screenplay is less articulate. Jimmy’s struggle with alcoholism, for instance, is suggested through visual shorthand that fails to convince.
Jawbone’s divergence from the glossy production values and optimism of Hollywood boxing movies is refreshing, yet it is still an oft-told story, and not a particularly interesting one, in new clothes.
CAST: Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Michael Smiley, Johnny Harris
DIRECTOR: Thomas Napper
WRITER: Johnny Harris
SYNOPSIS: When former youth boxing champion Jimmy hits rock bottom he turns to his childhood boxing club and the only family he has left: gym owner Bill, corner man Eddie and promoter Joe. Back in training, years after anyone thought he was a contender, he risks his life to try and regain his place in the world.