Unpretentious and unforgiving, Jawbone will make your head spin.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
A former youth boxing champion, Jimmy (This is England’s Johnny Harris) has reached middle age and found himself without a purpose, a job and a home. Looking to pick himself up off the canvas, Jimmy recruits the help of gym owner Bill (Ray Winstone), corner man Eddie (Michael Smiley) and financier Joe (Ian McShane) so that he can step back into the ring for his long overdue comeback fight.
Dripping with blood, sweat and tears, Jawbone isn’t a glorified take on boxing; a washed-up alcoholic alone in the world, Jimmy’s plight is more closely aligned with the titular character in Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, as he fights for welfare and his home on top of victory in the ring. Where Rocky is rousing, Jawbone is about fighting tooth and nail for survival.
Perfectly capturing this is Harris in the lead role; also serving as screenwriter, Harris puts his heart and soul into both the script and his performance, bringing geezers like Winstone and Smiley along for the ride as well. Harris’ writing affords all three a substantial amount of emotional heft and they carry it off with aplomb.
All this culminates in a raw and punishing fight that doesn’t pull its punches. Director Thomas Napper gets up and close and personal, placing you in the midst of every swing, sidestep and slap. What Jawbone lacks in polish it makes up for it character, emotion and genuine catharsis.
That Good Night
John Hurt effortlessly carries his last film, even as its theatre origins let it down.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Ralph is an elderly, cantankerous writer (John Hurt) facing death. Hoping to make amends, he invites his estranged son, Michael (Max Brown), to his villa for a weekend of confessions. Things go awry when Michael brings his partner Cassie (Erin Richards), and Ralph brings out his bitter side.
There’s a (mostly justifiable) sense of self-indulgence to That Good Night. Partly, it’s that Ralph is a famous writer who rattles off beautiful poetry whenever he wants, but it’s also that this is John Hurt’s last film, so his musings on life and death carry particular weight. You can’t blame him for indulging either. Few actors have the talent to warrant an entire film dedicated to their own mortality, so it seems fitting to give Hurt one last opportunity to show off his abilities.
He carries it all, too. Surrounded by adequate co-stars – and Charles Dance with the gravitas of a small planet – Hurt stands head and shoulders above every other aspect of the film. His performance is beautifully naturalistic, rising above its theatre roots to deliver a compelling snapshot of a man coming to terms with his end.
Sadly, the film itself can’t quite match him. Director Eric Styles does his best to move things away from the script’s theatre origins, using sweeping vistas and excellent colour to highlight Portugal’s countryside, but it’s not quite enough. He just can’t escape that theatre vibe – slightly heightened and stiff. The worst offender is the dialogue, which is needlessly expository and workmanlike at times. However, even as the rest of the film struggles to keep up, Hurt keeps it all together. A fitting end, then, for an actor who certainly did not go gentle into that good night.
Cunard British Film Festival runs in Perth from October 26th – November 15th
Images courtesy of Palace Films & Cunard British Film Festival.