Writer Johnny Harris takes the central role of Jimmy McCabe in this smashing film with a boxing background. We’re all familiar with the Rocky theme tune playing in the background and the stereotypical rags to riches story. We know there’ll be a fight and our hero will win.
Johnny Harris gives it a bit of twist, his fight is with the booze. He can still shift, but his better days are gone. He lives in a council property that’s been torn down and he’s been torn down with it. He refuses to budge. He goes to the housing and when they give him a hard time, he turns on the security guards. Jimmy McCabe needs somewhere to park his anger.
Social realism isn’t just about rundown locations. I recognise Jimmy McCabe, he’s like my brother Sev, Stevie Mitchell, even young Robert, all dead. All boozers. They’d that edge. Prisons are full of Jimmy McCabes—all they’ve got is their pride. All unable to switch off.
Jimmy has more immediate needs than salvation. With nowhere to stay, nowhere to go, he drifts back to the old gym he used to train. Bill’s gym is the kind of rundown place that hasn’t room for fancy stuff, or fancy people. Working class kids come to learn from Bill Carney (Ray Winstone). Winstone boxed for England as a schoolboy, but here he’s the old timer bringing new kids on, keeping them off the street, teaching them about values. He doesn’t miss a trick. When Jimmy wanders in he spots him right away. He exchanges a look with a faithful sidekick Eddie (Michael Smiley) that helps him out.
‘You alright Jimmy?’ Bill asks him.
Jimmy tells him he’s just in to train. Nothing much is said. That’s the brilliance of the script. But when something needs to be said, it’s Bill that does the talking and Jimmy listens. This is not the Jimmy we’ve seen up until now. In the school of hard knocks you only get one chance, but Bill is holding out a helping hand.
Jimmy takes the piss. He’s nowhere to stay and breaks into Bill’s gym to have somewhere to kip down. He leaves before anybody comes in the morning. Bill catches him out, of course. And it’s a thing of beauty. The script really is pitch perfect.
Jimmy needs a fight, but he’s no longer fit. He has to beg a pound to make a phone call. Use old contacts in the fight game. Joe Padgett (Ian McShane) meets him in a restaurant and buys him a steak dinner. More importantly, he gets him a bout, unlicensed, but cash, £2500, or £3000 if it’s a knockout. He also gives him a sub to get by. The guy that Jimmy’s got to fight is unbeaten, much younger and a killer. We’re in Rocky territory here.
We’re rooting for Jimmy, but we know what happens next when he buys a bottle of booze.
Later, Jimmy, in an AA meeting says what we all know, what we’ve experienced. ‘I’m a fighter, but I can fight it. I know I’ll lose. That’s why I’m here.’
He knows that’s one fight he’s going to lose. In the gym he was something. On the streets he’s less than nothing. He needs to prepare for the unlicensed fight, but he tries to keep it a secret from Bill. But Bill already knows. Bill knows a lot of things. His fatherly relationship with Jimmy and Eddie’s misgivings are realistic. Can a boozer really change? (Answers on a postcard and send it to God.)
Here the sweat of honest men, who tell it like it is, makes us hearken back to simpler times. Boxing is the most brutal sport. That’s where we get the term punch-drunk from. Here another aspect is on show, kindness and comradeship. Whether Jimmy wins his boxing bout, or not, we know, doesn’t really matter. It’s the bout with himself and the booze he needs to win. Stepping into the ring, might be a catalyst for destruction, but when every day is a battle…Get real. Watch this.