Produced by Michael Elliott, Johnny Harris. Written by Johnny Harris. Cast. Johnny Harris as Jimmy McCabe, Ray Winstone as William Carney, Ian McShane as Joe Padgett, Michael Smiley as Eddie, Luke J.I. Smith as Damian, Anna Wilson-Hall as Mary. Director : Thomas Q. Napper. Duration: 1 hr 31 mins. Cert. 15.
There is no place to go for anyone whose hope has gone. The future is a place of roadkill. It will swallow you up. The mind sees things it cannot control and the future is best left alone so horrendous it seems looking forward. So what is there to do except go backwards. Unwind the past beyond the turmoil which formed the bridge between then and now. Jimmy McCabe (Johnny Harris) has hope but fear also and his upbringing has been in a closed world of boxing. A neutral corner in his life. A year ago his mother died and he is about to lose through this own disconnection with the world the tower block flat he grew up in. His family as young boxer were his trainer Eddie (Michael Smiley), promoter Joe (Ian McShane), and club owner Bill (Ray Winstone). He is in control only when he is in the ring as a fighter. As a boxer he became at 22 an ABA (Amateur Boxing Association) champion which is the biggest step on the ladder to becoming a professional.
Boxing bored of control
In boxing you are either a boxer or a fighter. Unless you are gifted and are both you will not succeed unless you are so beyond being a fighter you become a warrior or like Evander Holyfield lightening quick and as balanced as a dancer at the height of their powers. Some boxers are so gifted as to become a capable of outwitting your opponent in every move as it’s seen in advance and a matter of choosing the right time to unleash their demons. Seldom do boxers come through on the scale needed to sustain a living. Joe Calzaghe was a Welsh boxer who trained in himself with his father to be hard as nails and in a club without any distractions or manipulative promoters after a quick return and fall guys. Another was Ricky Hatton who grew a Manchester and bigger following to become a super light middleweight and his craft was speed and accuracy. A dynamite boxer fearless, fit and fast. Joe Calzaghe was able to handle his rise through the ranks and another Carl Froch came up with him to be British World Champion boxers.
Jimmy McCabe is a fictional boxer and this a cut at the boxing life not seen that often in film, never mind a British film. The boxing clubs that thrive in the working class areas and inner cities from Manilla to Manchester. This is not at the turbulent Rocky out on your feet kamikaze ruthless blood letting film which has arches of blood swooshing around and miracles off the canvas. Yet it has as a climax a fight choreographed by Barry and Shane McGuigan. Those two also ‘advise’ ‘train’ the boxers/actors in their ring craft in the club. Just as well it’s not true, they couldn’t train white mice. So much than you’ll not get a sequence here, how many Rocky’s? Taking boxing by the throats is what the promoter does.
Joe (Ian McShane), is a character smart from his Deadwood part, here as the chief fixer and fight maker. He appears only a few times and is played as a cross between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Barry Hearn. One a joker maverick skilled player and the other super spiv Svengali deal maker. It doesn’t amount to much here though and it’s only a passing element. He is close to fight arrangements and sets up something for Jimmy. It is off the usual boxing radar and highly dangerous. His skill is publicity and hype as marketing need appeal to the lower end of the market, promising this is only the beginning. It’s usually the beginning of the end as a fighters roster needs to contain a win to loss ratio of 10 to zero. Amateur ranks are full of talent but their ring craft is for three rounds although in tournaments they find themselves boxing every three days sometimes.
The film has a straight forward arc and is from the very beginning establishing the despair and near collapse in Jimmy’s life where things pile up and haunt him. He is fighting addiction and is near loosing his bearings which went after his mum died. He now is in a fixed loop with nowhere to turn and the boxing is the only thing in his mind with any real pleasure or self of self. He is not able to fix himself without some help so goes back to the Union Street Boxing Club. In the club the old faces of Bill (Ray Winston) who is the overseer in the under the railway arches of South East London, Lambeth and beyond, is a reconstructed hardman type as age catches up with the character and the actor. He portrays it as always with supremely brilliant timing and facial tone. The rough and readiness is not a put on but an everyday projection of life in the lower reaches of boxing. He is also the deliverer of some very well crafted lines and the delivery is as I say supremely well gauged as usual for Winstone. Eddie (Michael Smiley) has apart of a dog eyed trainer. His long bearded face, the hound of the training ring, delivered in nasal bass Belfast notes by a flaccid poor one dimensional character which Smiley occupies as a reciter of the McGuigan training words and gestures. Then his other acting skill was to use his hands holding Jimmy’s head in place while he delivered a heated bit of encouragement. One thing I noticed was he barely ‘smiled,’ no pun intended nor moved a great deal. No animation whatsoever and someone said it was ‘brilliant’ – some mistake! – and we never got to see his impressive new gnashers. Good boxers have a good set of teeth if they come out the other end and can afford the replacements the gum shield and constant battering have loosened. Jimmy McCabe (Johnny Harris) has an impressive set. Eddie occupies an awful lot of the film as it is shot mainly in the club with a lot of outdoor work and nighttime embankment solid very well filmed and a continuation of the work Jimmy puts in – and it’s far from fake – you get a strong sense of the depths of fitness needed for a fight and it is increased and increased with every frame. In the club there are the newest recruits to boxing. A failure of the story was its lack of engagement with any of the junior ranks. Not one said a word. Not even conversational asides. Still this was a minor problem though the same could be said about the plainness of the storylines given. Not too many sub plots. So Eddie was ‘boring?’ but not Bill who you got some change from watching his mastery of the part. Jimmy AKA Johnny Harris has put his heart and soul into this film and it is this ‘tunnel’ perhaps that separate it from being a great British film of the times, Tales of the Long distance Runner, Saturday Night, Sunday Morning genre.
Salvaging something out of a life of addiction and getting beyond the harmful effects, which can be lasting and take the edge of everything including pain, is a redemptive cause. Celebration can come if a success is made of it. Lately Antony Joshua became a world champion at 26 having been through a few of life’s knockdowns which involved petty crime and misuse of his strength involving also electronic tagging. His tale is a reality. A very timely one as far as this film is concerned. There is an unobtrusive soundtrack and it is by Paul Weller showing mixing skills hitherto unheard by myself with it used very smartly (in the way Raw and Jim Williams didn’t – see last review!) with it enhancing the impact of thumping sound mixed punches and scene crowd hysteria with an energy which has you move you chin out of the way of the latest punch. It is a good cal to have it scored so well and with a light touch.
For a film to get you gripped by the main character it requires a bit of screenwriter craft to draw you into the essence of the person. I never got that until it was too late with this. It was actually in the last third with very little drama involving pathos or sympathy in the arc and I suppose it is because the character Jimmy is an enigma. He was less enigma towards the end. As a boxer it is a lonely place to be. Every boxer is on the way to proving his worth and is out to give up little of his emotional underlying self. Ricky Hatton, even Muhammad Ali were underneath a construct of multiple persons. The violent man was suppressed most of the time while they were bodily mentally tuned to be destroyers and to reach the top they had to be just that. Hence the incomparable Ali performing as a spokesman contender for the whole of the sportsmen of his and any era. The affable side we also know and love. A master. This is where the minutiae of live comes into crystal clear focus. If we were able to see inside a bit more and discover the obvious and real demons – in the minds of al kinds Oscar sportsmen then this would have been a flyer. That’s not to say it’s a dud. Far from it. It’s just that it got the canvas too many times.
10 May 2017
On at Queens Film Theatre from this Friday 12 May through to and including Thursday 18 May. For Boxing fans a must.