The Champ. Rocky. Rocky II. Rocky III. Rocky XIX (oh wait, there wasn't a Rocky 19?). *coughs*...all the other Rocky films. Raging Bull. Million Dollar Baby. Cinderella Man. The Fighter. The list goes on, because we love boxing movies! Probably because boxing takes athleticism and poignant life lessons about bravery, humility, resilience and perseverance (as do many sports films) and blends them into a gritty, visual poetry.
But let's get to our newest fight film, Southpaw. From the trailer and the previews you can see that Jake Gyllenhaal has put immense physical effort into the boxing role (it was a challenge trying to find photos of him with a shirt on!) and, it would appear, just as much effort into the psyche of his character, Billy Hope, the boxing star who has it all; fame, riches, and a loving, supportive wife named Maureen (played by Rachel McAdams).
Now, we also have what appears to be dedicated performances from Rachel McAdams, Forrest Whitaker, Curtis Jackson (50 Cent for those who didn't know) and Rita Ora. But the fact remains that so many boxing films have the cookie cutter storyline of a boxer who combats adverse circumstances to achieve greatness and overcome personal challenges. However, in Southpaw (the title is a boxing term for fighters with the unique characteristic of leading with their left hand), Billy Hope is actually a fighter who starts out on the top of the world (as opposed to being introduced as an underdog) only to have a series of devastating circumstances tear nearly everything he loves away from him. The rest of the film chronicles his fight both in and outside the ring (legal, physical, etc.) to win back what's left of his life and those he loves.
Southpaw's plot is interesting…we often think of this film genre as highlighting someone trying to achieve greatness, but when you start out successful and it all comes crashing down, you redefine what "greatness" truly is as you get up, dust off the ashes and (you guessed it) fight on.
We love boxing movies because each match our often underdog athlete faces is allegorical to the challenges we face in life (or yes, sometimes it's just a good fight) and we love to see challenges overcome. With a solid cast and director (Antoine Fuqua, known for other hardcore films such as: Training Day, The Equalizer, & Shooter) here's hoping this will be Jake Gyllenhaal's Oscar ticket and will make the price of our movie ticket worth it.