Jake Gyllenhaal may have a few roles on his resume that have been subject to ridicule, but more and more people are taking him seriously as an actor (though the ones who think he is suddenly a great actor should check out 2001’s ‘Donnie Darko’ instead of ‘Prince of Persia’ and ‘The Day After Tomorrow’). In ‘Southpaw,’ he plays and professional boxer named Billy Hope (his accent throughout the film is much better than it appears to be in the trailer), who has serious anger management and impulse control issues. He is also a loving father and husband. Unfortunately, a series of events caused by his anger management (actually forget anger management, the guy has outright rage management issues) and impulse control problems cause a severe downward spiral in his life. He spends the rest of the film trying to get his life back together so he can regain custody of his daughter (Oona Laurence) after the death of his wife (Rachel McAdams, who does quite a bit with a fairly small amount of screen time). With the help of a boxing (and life) coach (Forest Whitaker) at an inner city gym, Hope learns a new style of boxing and ultimately a new way to live his life.
Despite the ever increasing despair of Billy Hope’s circumstances, the film actually moves along quite quickly. The early scenes certainly give people the urge to yell “get it together, man!” at Billy Hope. The film establishes that Billy Hope uses anger to fight, and it has started to take control of his life outside of the ring. Forest Whitaker’s character Titus is someone who has learned to control his own anger and helps Billy Hope use things other than anger to win fight. The film also establishes that Titus has to continually face difficult and nearly hopeless situations. Even he struggles to overcome personal demons, so he is the best person to help Billy.
The relationship between Billy Hope and his daughter Leila is a great driving force in the film. Attention writers of ‘Ant Man,’ this is how you write a father-daughter relationship. A character’s child should be more than a cute, squealing prop. Audience members should be able to identify with the child as much as the parent. Wow, this weekend people in the Greater Dayton area have two options to see terrific characters who happen to be children on the big screen ‘Southpaw’ and ‘MR, Holmes’). How often does that happen? One minor gripe about this film is that Billy Hope’s group of friends could have enhanced the film if they’d gotten a bit more screen time. It’s a minor gripe though. ‘Southpaw’ does follow a certain formula, but at least it follows that formula really well. Southpaw opened nationwide on July 24, after earthy Thursday screenings on July 23.