EMU FILMS / REVOLUTION FILMS / BBC FILMS (2017)
Director: Thomas Q. Napper
Starring: Johnny Harris, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Michael Smiley
Where ya gonna run now, old Jimmy?
The opening lines to the movies closing song sum up the movie perfectly. Jimmy McCabe (Harris) was once a junior boxing champion, now he’s a washed up drunk who’s lost his only home to the council and has nowhere to turn. With no other options left, he returns to the Union Street boxing gym and to his old trainer Bill (Winstone) and cohort Eddie (Smiley) to train again and attempt to save himself from the drink.
The movie sets us up for Jimmy’s final (unlicensed) payday, however the fight itself is simply a backdrop to the constant fight Jimmy faces every day, and is only part of the journey. It is cleverly woven into the narrative where it feels as if it is the conclusion, however it is just another stepping stone to sobriety and a better life. This life is shown with no glamour and all pain, with every close up shot of Jimmy’s agonised face we see the veins fighting to burst from his face, the dirt of his situation clinging to his skin and the agony of his inner demons etched across his grizzled face. He constantly looks dirty and beat, the cinematography is grim and unapologetic – Jimmy constantly resides in the shadows as the blurry, bright lights of London loom large in the distance. At every turn there’s an obstacle, but there is hope laced through the story.
Johnny Harris is sublime as the battered, disillusioned fighter. Emotion oozes out of his pores and you can feel his anger, sadness and yearning throughout the film. A thundering performance. The same can be said of Michael Smiley as the passionate cornerman who delivers a stand up performance along with Harris. Winstone delivers as the aging coach/gym owner with a sad secret, and Ian McShane, as the boxing promoter, gives what he always gives - a solid performance.
The movie skips between Jimmy’s life struggles – his fight with alcohol, how he beats homelessness and his relationships with certain characters – and his slow return to training and boxing. There are many scenes where we simply watch the story unfold and dialogue is not required – contemplative scenes of Jimmy debating one more drink, the pensive train journey to the fight – and this only adds to the gravitas of the moments. The boxing scenes are filmed at close quarters (at times first person) and the editing and sound design ensures you wince at each crunching blow the fighters receive. With additional direction from Carl Frampton and Barry McGuigan, the training and fight scenes feel bruising and authentic.
The movie will be too bleak for many, and the gloomy soundtrack (provided by British rock icon Paul Weller) only underlines the movies tone, however director Thomas Q. Napper has crafted a fine boxing movie which centres solely on the man rather than the boxer, and the fight rather than the bout. Stick with it and you won’t regret it.
June 26th 2017