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article imageReview: ‘Southpaw’s grit just isn’t enough Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jul 24, 2015 in Entertainment
‘Southpaw’ is the ultimate boxing movie in that we’ve seen it all before — but that doesn’t mean it can’t have any redeeming qualities.
There have been several good boxing films made over the years, some based on true stories and others emerging from the imaginations of talented authors and screenwriters. Directors such as Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese have stepped into the ring and had an impact on the sports film subgenre. But no matter the trajectory of the story, it always comes down to one last fight. That’s part of the movie’s appeal — audiences know they are going to see a well-choreographed match that rivals some of reality’s best. Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw follows in its predecessors’ footsteps, which can be considered good and bad.
Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the undisputed lightweight champion, but that just means there’s a line of boxers waiting in the wings to be the first guy to take him down. Next up is Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez), a young, energetic fighter convinced he’s got what it takes to be the next champion — and he may be right. Billy’s never ran away from a challenge, but there are other factors to consider. His wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), and manager, Jordan Mains (50 Cent), disagree about what’s best for Billy; the former worries about his health since he is generally inspired by a pummelling and the latter just sees dollar signs. After a tragic accident, Billy is left to make his own decisions and it takes him time to figure out which are the right ones for both him and his daughter. But with a new trainer (Forest Whitaker) and fresh focus, Billy can regain some of what he’s lost.
The simplest and possibly most accessible description of the film’s plot is it’s a combination of Rocky III and Rocky V. The first comparison may be considered a compliment, but the latter is not since it’s believed to be the worst picture in the franchise. As in the third chapter, a younger, enthusiastic fighter is demanding an opportunity for the title, but Billy’s team is concerned the odds of winning are against him. Similarly (incredibly so), Billy must modify his style of boxing to be competitive and under the tutelage of a former great, he is transformed. On the other hand, like the fifth representation of the Italian Stallion, Billy is portrayed as a washed-up fighter who’s lost respect in the industry save for a few holdouts and his most dedicated admirers.
Besides being a rehash of already familiar stories, this movie has another significant problem: large sections of it are dull. It’s not any one, specific thing that makes parts of the film boring — they’re just simply uninteresting. After Billy hits rock bottom, there’s a lull until Eminem’s “Phenomenon” begins to blast from the speakers and breathe new life into the picture. And it’s nothing against the actors.
Gyllenhaal’s Billy is authentic inside and outside the ring. He already had the acting talent to portray the emotional boxer, but he clearly put the effort into ensuring he was a believable fighter too. As usual, it’s impossible not to be in McAdams’ corner whose portrayal of Maureen is full of love and concern. Conversely, 50 Cent is far less likable as he nails the Don King-promoter role. Finally, Whitaker’s quiet demeanour is fitting but simultaneously draws the wind out of the film’s sails to some extent by feeding on rather than contributing to its force.
And yet, unoriginality and monotony aside, it still feels like a fairly good film. Fuqua takes writer Kurt Sutter’s words and gives them the raw, on-screen grit for which they are both known. That, combined with top-notch performances, makes this movie more than watchable even though it won’t be winning any prizes.
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams and Forest Whitaker
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