Movie Review: Southpaw

It's a by-the-numbers boxing flick, but Jake Gyllenhaal turns in a knockout performance.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker and Rachel McAdams.
Opens Friday, July 24, at Muvico Ybor, AMC West Shore, Veterans, Regal Park Place, Largo Mall and other theaters.

Southpaw, the latest from director Antoine Fuqua of Brooklyn’s Finest and Training Day fame, is an adrenaline-filled boxing movie that hits all the clichés and formulas way too precisely but still manages to emotionally rope you in.

“I’m a motherfucking beast” screams the intro music as a ripped Jake Gyllenhaal, playing boxing champ Billy Hope, gets his hands tied in preparation for a big fight in Madison Square Gardens. If he wins, and he does in a 10th round knockout, this will be his 43rd win in a row. Hope fights with rage and doesn’t block his opponent’s hits. The blows make him stronger and fuel his game. He spits blood nonstop and feverishly shows off his “Hope” mouth guard. He is a monster. A machine. His wife, Maureen, a gorgeously Jersey-ed out Rachel McAdams, is by his side, encouraging and demanding success. He takes home the championship belt to his giant gated house with his 10-year-old daughter, the creepily adult-like Oona Laurence, waiting up.

Soon tragedy strikes and Hope's reactions result in his success and family being ripped away. It is the mania and anger that helped him get to the top in his career that causes his life to hit rock bottom. Well, mania, anger and some poor financial planning. Within a few scenes, he goes from millionaire boxer to a guy living in squalor with nothing except for his gray sweat suit and a couple of snapshots of his wife and daughter. (There had to have been something not repossessed right? Did he have to by new toothpaste and deodorant or did the bank take that too?)

Even his manager Jordan Mains — played by a moderately okay-actor-but-better-rapper Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent — drops him and begins representing his arch enemy Miguel Escobar, Miguel Gomez, who may or may not be involved in previously mentioned tragedy.

In comes Forest Whitaker as Tick Wills the boxing trainer who works with underprivileged kids and definitely, never, ever professional fighters. (Watch out for the foreshadowing. It’ll hit you over the head so hard it will leave a bruise.)

Whitaker’s like an ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich and just makes everything better. He is such a master thespian, he might’ve gotten the script that morning but you’d never know it. (Though, looking back on some of Whitaker’s film choices, including 2013’s The Last Stand co-starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Johnny Knoxville — huh? — you’d think he owes a lot of people a lot of money.)

Luckily for Hope, after hitting a ref in his last match, he is suspended from pro boxing therefore comes the convenient loophole of being able to be trained by Wills. And you better believe most of the training comes from within but not without some cleaning the gym as punishment first. And it is at Wills’ grungy little gym that Hope has to learn fight the right way, without the fury he is known for, to get his life back.

Gyllenhaal, who supposedly got Oscar shunned for what I believe was a bit overacting in last year’s Nightcrawler, pulls off a terrific and convincing performance. His formerly dopey Bubble Boy eyes have been replaced by puffy, physically and emotionally beaten down eyes; his sometimes scraggy frame is beefed up and convincing of a boxing champ’s physique.

He emotionally gets it too, and had me unable to fight back tears throughout the 123-minute flick.

Early on it is easy to predict where Southpaw is going to take us. It’s a comeback movie. A redemption movie. The formula is taught in Screenwriting 101. But no matter how predictable and trite it feels; it still has you cheering in the end. Just don’t think about it too hard, cause you might get mad at how hard you just got played.

About The Author

Stephanie Powers

Freelance contributor Stephanie Powers started her media career as an Editorial Assistant long ago when the Tampa Bay Times was still called the St. Petersburg Times. After stints in Chicago and Los Angeles, where she studied improvisation at Second City Hollywood, she came back to Tampa and stayed put.She soon...
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