So I finally sat down to watch Southpaw in a darkened theatre, starring a very ripped Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Hope. All I can say is I was amazed at how well it delivered. After seeing the film, as I normally do, I had a quick gander at Rotten Tomatoes where the score is sitting at 60%, which I thought was a bit low, given what I had just seen. So I set out to correct all critical wrongs (as if) by posting my personal impression of the film.
Sporting a script from Kurt Sutter (creator of a certain show called "Sons of Anarchy"), and directed by Antoine Fuqua (director of "Training Day", "Shooter", and more recently "The Equalizer") the story opens with Hope (Gyllenhaal) taking a serious beating in a boxing ring, but eventually dishing it out to win the fight. His wife Maureen (played by the ever dynamic Rachel McAdams) watches in horror as he continues to take abuse in the ring, before pummelling his opponent and winning the fight. He goes home with his wife, says goodnight to their daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) and discusses maybe taking sometime off from fighting. As Billy begins to seriously consider some downtime he and Maureen attend a charity event where (*spoiler alert*) she gets killed. What follows is Billy' s gradual downward spiral, where he loses everything including custody of his daughter. But true to his name he embraces hope and bounces back. It's a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale, without over-emphasis on either end. So now I break down what worked.
What worked for me: I have seen many a boxing film, but I will say this is the first time I was drawn into what really happens in the hours directly after the end of a fight. From the get-go you are brought into a world where the themes aren't about the big win or being champion of the world. The main reason this film worked for me is that it is thematic. The Rocky movies are great underdog tales. But this was a movie about bruises and scars. You watch Hope slowly heal from the cuts above his eye and you see the above-kidney bruises and wincing that come with having just taken abuse in the ring hours before. Something we never see in movies like this. Throughout the film you see the bruises and scars from his rough childhood that still need to heal, which nearly destroy him. What really anchors this film is the dynamic relationship between father and daughter. In the early moments of the movie you are introduced to the film's biggest surprise, Oona Laurence. And wow...yes she kills in this movie (obviously not literally). Every scene she is in just brought out an emotional response in the audience. When you get the point where even the manliest men in the audience can't stop sniffling when she's on screen, you have to give credit where it's due. This movie avoided a lot of cliche moments and the usual pep talks that normally precede the build up to the final boxing match. This is a solid piece of boxing entertainment for Rocky lovers out there, but also those looking for a great drama. Just a note - the fight choreography is as they say "fully sick!"
What didn't quite work for me: Only a minor criticism is the time frame that it takes for Billy to recover from his downward spiral. It should have been a bit longer before he faced his opponent. Also it would have been nice to see a bit more interaction between Naomie Harris' character and Leila to help establish their rapport at the end of the movie (maybe that's on the cutting room floor...Mr Fuqua?).
More of an appreciation than a critique, but this was a refreshing change of pace. 60% - I think not RT....