Johnny Harris is the star and screenwriter of a modest but passionately performed boxing drama
A boxer's fight with the bottle and a reflection on being a 'contenda' is nothing new. Jawbone, the passion project of its star Johnny Harris (making his screenwriting and producing debut), retains an honest affection for its subject even if the story is hella predictable. Set in South London, it charts the hazy return to the ring of former junior amateur champion Jimmy McCabe (Harris) who's battling alcoholism as he deals with the death of his beloved mother and the loss of his childhood home.
Repeatedly scraping the bottom – which includes an I, Daniel Blake-type interlude as he tries to hold onto his home – Jimmy sneaks into his old boxing club. While he is not exactly welcome, he is allowed to stay with a warning from the owner Bill (Ray Winstone): one sniff of booze and he's out. As he prepares for an unlicensed fight against a volatile young pugilist, Jimmy is helped back into shape by Bill's right-hand man Eddie (Michael Smiley), a difficult to read character with whom he forms a tentative bond. Will Jimmy succeed, or fall back into the vat of swill from which he's almost wrested himself?
The film features some interesting direction from experienced second unit man Thomas Napper – in his narrative feature debut – and intense, sometimes dizzying cinematography by Tat Radcliffe (Pride, '71). Although Harris gives a gutsy, committed performance, he can't quite compete with the likes of Ian McShane whose glittering turn as a mysterious fight promoter lifts the minutes he's in the film. Winstone, too, enlivens even the simplest dialogue; the reason he's a star is his ability to conjure meaning that may be absent or ambiguous in the script itself.
The flaws are obvious: striking visuals mask a slight and stereotypical tale. Yet it has the air of authenticity and is notable, not just for its deft supporting turns, but as the first film to feature an original soundtrack from the 'Modfather' Paul Weller. Jawbone is a lovingly assembled, if not wholly successful concentration of British talent.
General release from Fri 12 May.