Year:  2017

Director:  Thomas Napper

Rated:  M

Release:  October 24 – November 15, 2017

Running time: 91 minutes

Worth: $17.00
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Johnny Harris, Ray Winstone, Michael Smiley, Ian McShane

...there are moments of simple truthfulness.

This British drama revisits familiar themes but it does so with an unflinching seriousness and humanity that earns our respect. It is a boxing film. However, the trick with this subject matter is to keep the balance between the sports drama elements and the deeper human themes. Only a handful of boxing films have done that. There is something about boxing; it seems so pigheaded and brutal and wasteful and yet there is some strange sort of nobility that defies all logic.

The director Thomas Napper has been an AD on nearly a dozen British films, but this is his first time at the helm. It helps that he has a great cast, for it is the quality of the acting as much as anything that makes the film so watchable.

The film tells the story of Jimmy McCabe (Johnny Harris). Jimmy was a boxing champion as a junior but when we join him he is well and truly on the skids, effectively homeless and more or less ruined by his alcohol addiction. Without much real expectation of getting help, or even knowing how to face up to asking for it, Jimmy ends up at his old gym. The owner William – Bill – Carney (Ray Winstone) is so disgusted with what Jimmy has done to his talent that he can barely do more than sneer at him. However, Bill is also a deeply compassionate man, and someone who knows people are always worth saving. He, and his co-worker/trainer Eddie (the wonderful Irish actor Michael Smiley), decide to see if they can help Jimmy despite himself. When Jimmy goes cap in hand to an old promoter, Joe Padgett (an effective cameo from Ian McShane), he is offered an unlicensed fight against a young mauler.

The film is quite slow and sombre. A lot of it takes place in dim light (great cinematography from veteran Tat Radcliffe) and the camera lingers on the characters’ lived-in faces. There isn’t much actual fighting and even the training sequences are kept short. This is a good thing because these are elements that can too easily become formulaic. The script is not flowery as befits the terse characters, but there are moments of simple truthfulness. Winstone, in particular, is in absolutely top form here. He is an actor who has had his fair share of tough guy typecasting but he is so much better than that. Here he puts his very considerable craft in the service of a totally believable rounded-out performance. This alone is worth the price of the ticket.


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