Now, when you write and subsequently star in your own fighting movie, there’s an inevitable comparison that’s going to be made, whether you like it or not.
That is, of course, with Sylvester Stallone and Rocky, as that was exactly what he did.
With Jawbone it’s Johnny Harris (Monsters: Dark Continent, Welcome to the Punch) who both writes and takes the lead in this distinctly British, gritty boxing film.
Harris is a former junior boxing champion, now a homeless, alcoholic. He returns to the gym that made him a champion to do a bit of training.
Owner of the gym Bill, Ray Winstone (Hugo, Sexy Beast) tells Harris he must clean up his act, no booze and no illegal fighting. Harris agrees.
He then seeks out Joe, Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean, John Wick: Chapter 2), and asks him to setup an illegal fight, something he can earn a few grand on.
Joe does so, setting him up with a fight ‘up north’ with a guy heavier who ‘hurts people’. Harris trains with Eddie, Michael Smiley (The World’s End, Free Fire), for the fight.
What Jawbone is, is a look at a protagonist who is down when we meet him, goes further down during the film, and never really manages to pick himself up.
This is not a feel-good film. There are no montages to Eye of the Tiger. There aren’t a million fights (there’s just one), there’s a man fighting alcoholism.
Therein lies the problem. I’d like, and I’m sure you expected, more to be written after ‘alcoholism’ above. But I can’t. It’s not clear what our protagonist actually wants. It’s not clear why he’s ended up alcoholic or what he’s been doing since his championship win at the age of 16.
In fact, it’s not really clear about much. It’s like we’re seeing a snapshot of this person’s life without having the opportunity to ask questions.
Because of this, the film feels drawn out and lacklustre. I’m sorry that Harris is an alcoholic, but without knowing why, I found it hard to care. I’m sorry he’s homeless, but he was offered a new home, three times, and I don’t feel “that’s where I grew up” really gives me an answer as to why.
The movie is saved by a couple of points. First are the performances from Winstone, Smiley and Harris himself. Though Winstone and Smiley steal most scenes they’re in.
The second is director Thomas Napper’s (Sideshow (Short), Dead London (Short)) directing. It takes a bit of getting used to at first. There’s a lot of hand-held close-up work to start off with which adds to the grittiness but wears thin quickly.
His handling of the fight scene though is simply stunning. One-minute, watching like it’s on TV, the next we’re thrust in the ring, bobbing, weaving, getting hit.
The fight itself is good though it suffers from the standard film fare of fighter coming back after being pummelled again and again and again.
Jawbone is a very different type of boxing film, it’s a very different type of sports film, and for that Harris should be applauded.
However, the truth is it feels gritty and slow and all that sort of thing, for the sake of it. Without knowing our protagonist that well, without seeing him get back on his feet at least, it’s kind of hard to care.