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Southpaw Review


Any sporting drama, especially one existing in the boxing ring, needs a good underdog story at its core, and is exactly what you get in Southpaw, with champion boxer Billy ‘The Great’ Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) at top of his game, with his loving wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) by his side, who finds his life in pieces after a tragedy (unfortunately spoiled in the trailer) takes everything away from him. From there on in, we’re in familiar territory as Hope fights to get his life back. And while a sense of ‘being there, done that’ will creep in from time to time, the performances on display help Southpaw punch above its weight.

For an underdog story, you’ll find that for much of its runtime director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, Training Day) and screenwriter Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) are far more concerned with the underdog than the story, a torrent of misery being poured upon Billy Hope from pretty much the get-go. In between pummelling the audience with cliches (just in case we don’t know Billy came from nothing, we’re reminded that he grew up in the system every ten minutes), the movie just stops to reveal a fresh hell for our hero, and this incredibly slow pace can takes its toll on the audience and the narrative. It’s far too concerned with letting us know how bad Billy has it, that the usual beats of this kind of story are handled poorly, with the inevitable shot of redemption pulling off the strange feat of being totally expected and coming out of nowhere at the same time, and not really bringing with it the power it should.

Beyond it’s numerous story problems, Fuqua does imbue Southpaw with a tremendous amount of grit and style, the look of the movie echoing the dark tone of Hope’s riches to rags journey. When it comes to the boxing scenes, proceedings pick up considerably, shot through with an urgent, frenetic style to rival the great cinematic bouts that have come our way before, from Rocky to Raging Bull. For me, they packed more of a punch (no pun intended that time) and told more of the story than any of the slightly manipulative scenes between Billy and Leila ever did, with Gyllenhaal selling the pain and desperation of his journey better here than any other part of the movie. In fact, for the most part, the actors spellbinding performance helps pull Southpaw through, not just because of his jaw dropping transformation from the sickly thin Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler to the walking slab of meat that is Billy Hope. He imbues Hope with some wonderfully subtle character touches, from his slurred speech and punch drunk addled delivery in the early scenes, and as cliched as the story gets, Gyllenhaal keeps it grounded, lending Hope an affable charm tempered with an anger bubbling just under the surface. Rachel McAdams’ is sadly underused, which is even more unfortunate because she proves to the most interesting character beyond Billy. Forrest Whitaker does a great job with the usual trainer role, which thankfully is given a lot more meat than this stereotypical role is usually given.

While there’s nothing much new in here, Gyllenhaal’s fantastic performance helps make this incredibly watchable. It won’t worry any of the other great boxing dramas out there, but it does put up a good fight.

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The Movie Bit: Southpaw Review
Southpaw Review
The Movie Bit
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