“Southpaw” began its theatrical run in conventional theaters across the country starting today.
Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the light heavyweight champion boxer of the world. He’s currently undefeated with a streak of 43-0 and is happily married to his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams). Their ten year old daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) is Billy’s inspiration. He’s never forgotten where he’s come from; formerly incarcerated, poor, an orphan, and unable to determine where his next meal would come from. Billy has come a long way and he’s more than content swimming in the wealth he currently finds himself in; not unlike Scrooge McDuck.
A rivalry with another boxer named Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) quickly gets out of hand when Billy suddenly loses his wife in an accident. Billy loses everything because of it; his finances are seized, his house is foreclosed, he’s unable to box for at least a year, and child protection services steps in to take his daughter away. He’s forced to clean up his act and start all over from the very bottom once again. He gets a job at a local gym and looks to the tutelage of boxing trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) to get back in the ring and get his life back in order.
The relationship between Billy and his daughter is the knockout punch “Southpaw” offers when it comes to how solid and entertaining it is. Despite comparisons to “Rocky,” “Raging Bull,” “The Fighter” or any other boxing film that may come to mind “Southpaw” is still able to pack an emotional punch. Jake Gyllenhaal is as impressive as ever. Changing his physical appearance so drastically between “Nightcrawler” and “Southpaw” is already remarkable to behold, but the California born actor continues to showcase his talent in a way that is both stunning and absorbing.
Forest Whitaker is also fantastic in director Antoine Fuqua’s sports drama. Whitaker’s Tick Wills is strong headed almost to a frustrating extent, but obviously has a soft spot for Billy Hope. The chemistry Whitaker has with Gyllenhaal feels genuine and amusing when it needs to be. The film shines a spotlight on the physical toll of boxing. Even when he wins, Billy is practically incapacitated for some time after each fight. He bleeds profusely and often from the mouth. This is the battered and bruised reality to the luxury side of boxing.
The film features some captivating cinematography, especially during the boxing matches. The camera work has a way of throwing the audience directly into the ring right when the action is at its peak. You feel every punch and practically get drenched with every drop of sweat and blood that goes flying into the air.
The one downside the film may have is that it’s an underdog story that’s been told many times before. A sports film about an athlete on top of his game who is knocked down after a major tragedy that nearly destroys his career only to get back up in the final round to turn everything around in his favor. “Southpaw” isn’t so much appreciating what you already have as it is about reclaiming what is rightfully yours. Billy is utterly devastated and is broken because of it. He has to rebuild himself into a man, a boxer, and a father that is better than he formerly was who also learns to push past what he thought his limitations were.
“Southpaw” is aggressively powerful and exhilarating right from the very first round. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a scene stealing performance that is undeniably intense and passionate. Writer Kurt Sutter and director Antoine Fuqua have delivered an extraordinary sports film that gives a raw perspective on boxing. “Southpaw” is a touching jab to the drama genre with a riveting uppercut of intensity and passion. Antoine Fuqua’s latest is every bit as good as “Warrior.”