Film Review – Jawbone (2017)


‘Vanquished by a sorry jawbone.
The victory was not in the arm
Not in the weapon
But in the spirit.’
Book of Judges.

Londoner Jimmy McCabe is a man on the edge. I mean, really on the edge. When we see him first, he’s in his local housing office creating a scene, but there isn’t a soul alive who’d blame him for it.

When his old Mum passed away about a year ago, Jimmy took over the tenancy of her council flat. Now the whole estate is being demolished and Jimmy’s being told he’s got to move out. He doesn’t want to move out but the little guy can’t fight City Hall. He comes home from the housing office to find he’s been officially evicted. All he’s got in the world is a kit-bag of his stuff.

The scene in the housing office is one we can all sympathise with. It could be set in any one of a number of places where people are forced to queue for hours for things they need. It could be the bank, the post office, the dole office, the passport office or even the police station.

When Jimmy stands up and shouts: ‘There’s twenty people still waiting here and you’re closing your fucking window?’ to one of the clerks, I want to stand up and cheer. Many’s the time I’ve felt like doing the exact same. I’m sure we all have.

But you raise your voice in one of these places and all you get is booted out by the security guards or even the cops. When Jimmy is wrestled to the ground by several large men in uniform, the howl of pain he emits could be any one of us expressing our frustration at the way the system works. Does the little guy ever really win in cases like this? It sure doesn’t seem like it.

Thankfully, Jimmy’s not entirely without friends. The one place in the world he feels safe and happy is the Union Street Amateur Boxing Club, a place where even kids can come and train and be encouraged and nurtured, thus keeping them off the streets and out of trouble. But former youth boxing champion Jimmy’s blotted his copybook here too on account of his boozing.

The club’s boss Bill, a magnificently gravelly-voiced Ray Winstone, tells him that he can come back to the club to train but one whiff of booze off of him and he’s out on his ear. Jimmy gratefully accepts.

Eddie, Bill’s second-in-command, is suspicious of Jimmy who’s obviously screwed up in the past. Jimmy’s just glad to be allowed back in. He even kips in the place on the quiet by night. The club is more than just a hobby to him. Now it’s become his home as well.

Jimmy can’t live on fresh air, though. He goes to see an old ‘mate’ of his called Joe, played by a deliciously dodgy-looking suited and booted Ian McShane. Remember LOVEJOY? That was him. One steak dinner later, and Jimmy’s agreed to fight a much younger, fitter man in an ‘unlicensed’ boxing match in the near future.

I think for ‘unlicensed’ we can read illegal, like a cockfight or a dogfight watched by men who’ll pay money to see anyone- or anything- pound seven bells out of someone else.

He could get killed, but he’ll make a few quid. Jimmy’s on his uppers. Knowing it’s a foolhardy decision that neither Bill nor Eddie would approve of, he accepts…

The scenes between Jimmy and Eddie, a sweet little gnome of a man with a salt-and-pepper beard and a powerfully strong Northern Ireland accent, are just marvellous. First the terrible bust-up and then the heartbreaking making-up, oh Lord…!

Don’t make the mistake I made and watch this tear-jerker of a film after applying fresh mascara and eyeliner. I ended the film looking like a tarantula had been river-dancing on my face.

Johnny Harris, who plays Jimmy, also wrote and produced this superb film so it’s obviously a project close to his heart. As Jimmy, he wears his heart on his sleeve throughout the film. The pain in his handsome face and eyes seems one hundred percent real as he puts everything he possesses into the role. It’s a magnificent piece of acting and he deserves a slew of awards for it. And for the fantastic script, as well.

Jimmy is a kind of Everyman, really, isn’t he? Whether he’s pleading his case to no avail down at the housing office or cowering in an AA meeting, praying he won’t be called upon to speak, he could be any one of us. We all have our problems. Homelessness is at an all-time high here in Dublin, for example. When Jimmy breaks into the club at night so he has a place to bed down for the night, it’s hard not to think: ‘There but for the Grace of God…’

The boxing match scenes are harrowing too. They remind me of that episode of THE SIMPSONS where a gormless Homer Simpson was pitted against gigantic thug Drederick Tatum in a boxing match. Tatum’s manager only wanted someone who could sustain verticality against his fighter for a few rounds just to satisfy the bloodthirsty crowd. It was a given that Tatum would ultimately marmalise Homer, who was being ‘managed’ by Moe the Bartender.

That’s what it’s like here. Jimmy could be torn limb from limb by his opponent who snarls like an Orc but, as long as the crowd’s happy, it’s all good. I don’t even like boxing as a sport myself, but I was glued to JAWBONE from beginning to end. It’s a marvellous piece of work. When you get the opportunity to see it for yourself, do please move hell or high water to make it happen, won’t you?

Sandra Harris

Drama, Sports | UK, 2017 | 15 | 12th May 2017 (UK) 5th June 2017 (UK DVD) | Vertigo Films | Dir.Thomas Napper | Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Johnny Harris, Michael Smiley | Buy:Jawbone (DVD) [2017]

Sandra originally wrote this review for our sister site Cinehouse