Jawbone reviewed

Boxing drama with Paul Weller score

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There is a scene late on in Jawbone where Jimmy McCabe, a former youth boxing champion fallen on hard times, articulates his deepest anxieties. “I’m a fighter,” he says, “But I can’t fight this.” By “this” he means alcoholism, but he could equally be talking about any of the other troubles that gnaw away at him during director Thomas Napper’s impressive, if bleak, debut.

Jimmy is played by Johnny Harris, who also wrote the script. Jimmy appears in every scene – a hornet’s nest of internalized rage and self-loathing. When a meeting with officials to discuss his housing situation goes badly wrong, it takes three policemen to subdue him. Jimmy finds some respite in the gym where he trained as a youth and the people who work there – kindly owner Bill (Ray Winstone) and corner man Eddie (Michael Smiley). Leading a precarious, hand-to-mouth existence forces Jimmy to make extreme choices, and he signs on for an unlicensed fight, brokered by Ian McShane’s vulpine promoter, Joe. 10 rounds for a £2,500 pay day, whatever the result. “You were one of the bravest kids I saw,” says Joe. “What I don’t know is what kind of knick you’re in now.”

Like Steve McQueen’s Shame or Gerard Johnson’s Hyena, Jawbone is an intense and close-up depiction of a scarred individual going about his business with, largely, disastrous consequences. Paul Weller’s atmospheric, electronic score, meanwhile, adds a discreet frisson of tension. Harris is brings to the role the same fierce commitment that characterized his performance in Shane Meadows’ This Is England cycle. There is equally strong work from the supporting cast, particularly Michael Smiley as the loyal, principled Eddie. Inevitably, there is much that is familiar here – the down-at-heel boxer taking one last fight – but by maintaining such a tight focus on Jimmy himself, Harris and Napper have succeeded in creating a persuasive portrait of a man, reduced and on the edge, desperate for a way out.

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The June 2017 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Summer Of Love, talking to the musicians, promoters and scenesters on both sides of the Atlantic who were there. Plus, we count down the 50 essential songs from the Summer Of Love, from The Seeds to The Smoke, and including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. Elsewhere in the issue, we remember Chuck Berry, go on the road with Bob Dylan and there are interview Fleet Foxes, Fairport Convention, Fred Wesley, Jane Birkin and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks’ co-conspirators Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise. Our free CD has been exclusively compiled for us by Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold and includes cuts from Todd Rundgren, Neu!, Van Dyke Parks, The Shaggs, Arthur Russell and Cate Le Bon. Plus there’s Feist, Paul Weller, Perfume Genius, Ray Davies, Joan Shelley, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Johnny Cash, Alice Coltrane, John Martyn and more in our exhaustive reviews section

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