Glass Jaw: Review

glass jaw

1995 Bakersfield California, the scene is a mess of beer and trailer park. Young Travis Austin (Jack Fisher) and his father Sam (Jon Gries) watch a televised boxing match while developing gambling and fighting amidst a lethargic ambiance of unemployment, domestic violence, poverty, alcoholism and non-identifiable meals. And that is the first 5 minutes.

Sam’s advice to his young son Travis as he is about to hand him over to foster care services is worrying. “You’re going to meet some real pricks, don’t be a weak-arsed bitch, never let them know how scared you are, and If anybody upsets you, hit ‘em first and you hit ‘em hard. Bam.”. Travis nods with serious enthusiasm and holds onto the only photo he has of himself and his dad. After a last punch directed to his father, the family drive off. Abandonment has rarely looked this bad. We can only hope it’s going to get better from here. And it does. Travis Austin’s adult life is in stark contrast to his childhood. He has become a formidable character – loyal and resilient – from whom everyone wants a piece. The heart of the story is whether it is possible to overcome deception, disappointment and the whole array of despair. Along the way there are coaches and boxers, including Eddy (Reynaldo Gallegos) and Joe (Brandon Sklenar), to contend with in and out of the ring. A slow-revealing script keeps the viewer guessing.

Filmed boxing matches are among the earliest film recordings. From the beginning of cinema, boxing and films have been linked. The violence, anticipation and often rousing story were perfectly suited to the screen. Some of the standouts from the genre are Buster Keaton’s Battling Butler (1926), Tod Browning’s Iron Man (1931), Raoul Walsh’s Gentleman Jim (1942), Robert Gordon’s The Joe Louis Story (1953), Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980), Jim Sheridan’s The Boxer (1997), Michael Mann’s Ali (2000), Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man (2005), and of course Stallone’s Rocky Balboa (2006). Some female-inspired documentaries are Susanna Edwards’ Golden Girl (2016) and Meg Smaker’s Boxeadora (2015). At the top of many best-of lists is Body & Soul (1947) by Robert Rossen. A frequent theme of all these films is young male rises above his difficult circumstances to achieve material success thanks to boxing. GLASS JAW does not sway too far from this theme, but includes the sorrow and anger of loss and grief – of a child and of a parent, of the fight inside, as well as interesting and alarming insights into prison and boxing life. And it does it well.

GLASS JAW was written and produced by, amongst others, the two main characters of the story, adult Travis (Lee Kholafai), and his supportive on-screen girlfriend Dana (Khorrina Rico). They attempted to crowd fund after working on the script for three years, and this is obvious with poignant dialogue in which the actors excel, particularly the grieving coaches Frank (Mark Rolston) and Eddy. They attracted an excellent cast and crew including rapper Boosie Badazz (aka Lil Boosie), who plays a boxing bettor and underground fight club operator, as well as cinematographer Jeffrey L Kimball, ASC, including fantastic scenes of Los Angeles, and some remarkable drone sequences, as well as director Jeff Celentano.

This film is an example of independent persistent filmmaking with a small budget, providing a complex story, which left me wanting more.

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An Australian who has spent most of her adult life in Paris, Louise is a sometime photographer, documentary-maker, writer, researcher, day-dreamer and interviewer, who prefers to start the day at the local cinema’s 9am session.