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Review: Southpaw

Forest Whitaker and Jake Gyllenhaal star in The Weinstein Company's "Southpaw"

It’s expected that a sports movie about boxing is going to have some violent sequences that actual boxing doesn’t have. For someone such as myself, you just hope that these films don’t become too over the top with it all. With Southpaw, this is one feature that I worried about, but I also went into it thinking that we could be in for a treat if all of it goes as well as I think it could.

Southpaw follows Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), a famous boxer who is about to face the most difficult period of his life both in and out of the ring. Up until this time, the undefeated Light Heavyweight champion of the world has taken on all comers, but he now has to fight to recover from hitting rock bottom after a tragedy destroys his life. In order to rebuild himself and become an even greater man than before, he teams up with a tough trainer and begins his journey on a long road that he hopes has redemption at the end of it.

I’ll start by pointing out that Southpaw has plenty of non-boxing scenes that are overly dramatic and too sensational at times to be believable. Because of this, I had a difficult time feeling any kind of sympathy for Billy Hope and the family that he’s struggling to maintain. This is the kind of stuff that’s supposed to draw a reaction from you, but instead of accomplishing that, it was all a bit too much even if some of these kinds of thing can happen to real life boxers.

As far as the boxing is concerned, Southpaw also finds a way to let me down more than it should. As someone who sees himself as an aficionado of this sport referred to as the “sweet science,” it would be impossible for me to get behind these poorly put together boxing matches due to its arcade like and unrealistic approach. Since this is supposed to be a boxing movie, you would think that there would be a little more effort in making these scenes better, but that simply isn’t what happens.

That’s especially true during the earliest action in the film where there’s so much bad boxing taking place. Billy Hope is an undefeated world champion light heavyweight in his thirties, but he fights with no defense whatsoever. Thinking logically, a guy with that style in such a high weight division couldn’t possibly last that long. At this point in his career, he would have been a punch drunk gatekeeper whose only purpose would be to serve as fodder for young fighters looking to stomp through a recognizable name on their way up the ladder.

While most of the actual boxing is poorly done, the training sessions are a part of what makes portions of Southpaw entertaining. These scenes are quite good and have the ability to grab your attention. Just by looking at these sessions and Gyllenhaal’s physique, you can tell that he took this role seriously. That’s something I can respect even though it doesn’t payoff in terms of the fights that we’re asked to watch and believe in.

The only other positive that I found here is actually one that improves the movie a decent amount. Now, this shouldn’t be a shock to anyone when I say that Jake Gyllenhaal and Forest Whitaker are both wonderful. As you’ll see for yourself, the two men have some real chemistry together as a fighter looking to find his way and a trainer willing to help. A large part of me wishes that Southpaw would have chosen to focus on this aspect of the story more than anything else.

Giving us more of them together training and building a proper fighter/trainer relationship could have done wonders for the movie’s overall quality. Would this have made the film less emotional? Probably, but it would have also given us something more plausible. Then again, creating some more convincing action would have also assisted in stirring our souls while feeding our emotional needs.

Overall, Southpaw doesn’t come close to living up to all that it could have been. There’s a story in there that could have turned this picture into something truly special, but the need to make this into a drama about the life of a boxer rather than a sports drama about boxer prevents it from achieving the lofty goals that it clearly has.

Rating: R

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Jake Gyllenhaal
Forest Whitaker
Rachel McAdams
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
Oona Laurence
Naomie Harris
Miguel Gomez
Rita Ora
Beau Knapp
Clare Foley

Film Length: 124 minutes

Release Date: July 24, 2015

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

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