- on Friday, 24 July 2015 16:37
- by Frank Wilkins
Were it not for the devastatingly effective one-two punch of Jake Gyllenhaal and Forest Whitaker in Antoine Fuqua’s boxing movie Southpaw, the film might succumb to the legitimate criticism of its formulaic underpinnings. Sure, it borrows many of the main themes of other boxing movies like Rocky, The Fighter, and even Million Dollar Baby… and it really doesn’t even introduce anything new to the sub-genre other than hesitantly touching on the personal relationship between boxer father and fragile daughter.
But none of those other films have Gyllenhall in the lead with his cut physique and all-in commitment to the role of Billy Hope, the Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World who loses everything when tragedy strikes his family and his lifelong manager (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) leaves him behind. Fuqua even brings a little to the table as his high-powered sports drama doubles as an in-depth character examination of good people with deep-seated character flaws.
We meet Billy at the film’s outset as he’s living on top of the world with all the materialistic wealth a successful boxing career can deliver - lavish manse, fleet of cars, and Cartier watches he hands out like hard candy to his traveling entourage. Billy even seems to have it all together in the spiritual world with beautiful wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) who, like himself, is a product of the state – both having been raised in a Hell’s Kitchen orphanage. Their pristine little empire is topped by precocious daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) who they both adore.
But Billy is leading a double life. In the ring he thrives on rage, anger and raw emotion – traits that can, ironically, destroy a fighter from within, both in the ring and out. Southpaw is the story of how a man attempts to come to grips with his own anger and how he must learn to set aside those emotions to become a loving husband and caring father.
As might be expected, Billy’s biggest challenge will come from outside the ring, when tragedy strikes his family, leaving the pugilist homeless, penniless, and with Leila in the custody of Child Protective Services. It’s at this point Southpaw staggers on its feet as Fuqua, working from a script by Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy), fails to creatively transform the film into a universal story about redemption, dealing with personal demons, and overcoming obstacles. Nearly every boxing movie is built around these same motifs, but Southpaw does nothing to set itself apart. The boxing footage is, however, top-notch in the hands of Director of Photography Mauro Fiore (Training Day) who deploys HBO Boxing’s actual camera operators to crawl around the ring and catch every blow with pounding realism.
Playing Billy’s humble but tough trainer and gym owner Tick Wills, is Forrest Whitaker who deploys his trademarked odd but mesmerizingly calm demeanor to his character that will become mentor, and ultimately, savior to Billy. Like Rocky’s Mickey, Tick will not only have to teach Billy the proper boxing moves and mechanics to regain his fighting form, but he must also dig into his tattered psyche to reprogram the broken fighter. Watching Gyllenhaal and Whitaker go at it toe-to-toe on the set is worth the of price admission alone.
Gyllenhaal’s athleticism and boxing skills need mention as well. Despite committing the same sin that bedevils every boxing film ever made, Southpaw’s in-the-ring action is above criticism. Gyllenhaal’s weeks of training pay off with some of the most realistic ringside footage you’ll see in a movie of this type. Sure, the blows and far too numerous and much more calculated and brutal than in the real sport (and there are even a few heads that bob from missed blows), but Gyllenhaal not only looks and moves like a fighter, but his transformation doesn’t stop at the physical level as he clearly gets into the mindset of a boxer as well.
Sadly, but partially deserving, Southpaw will come and go without much notice in a summer line-up packed with the best action fare studios have to offer. Lacking the hard punch of a unique message and the fancy footwork of so many others in the genre who have done it better, Southpaw fails to get the knockout Gyllenhaal deserves. Let’s just call it a TKO.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, and some violence
Runtime: 123 mins
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence
Genre: Sports | Drama
Tagline: Believe in Hope.
Memorable Movie Quote: "A fighter knows only one way to work"
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Official Site: https://www.facebook.com/SouthpawMovie
Release Date: July 24, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: A boxer fights his way to the top, only to find his life falling apart around him.
No details available.