The marriage of genre pic, talented writer, accomplished director and an actor on the ascension results in a compelling addition to the boxing sports film genre. Antoine Faqoa fresh from directing Denzel in exploitation revenge thriller The Equaliser extracts a terrific performance from Jake Gyllenhaal who embodies his character with a quiet dignity.
The story centres on light heavyweight champion Billy Hope and his fall from grace and rise again from the ashes. The film at times mimics the storyline of Rocky 3 and the classic boxing tear-jerker The Champ. It opens as Billy defends his title, a short time later his adoring wife and fellow orphan from hells kitchen Maureen (McAdams), issues him a stern warning, if he continues to fight it will result in longterm brain damage. “I want to take a break, you can’t fight like that anymore” she pleads with Billy. “The way I fight got us this house” he fights back. Their child Leila (Lawrence) is cute and smart, she wants to see her dad fight but mum won’t let her. Unfortunately the happy ever falls apart and after a sudden, shocking tragedy Billy has to rebuild his life and reclaim the title from some unscrupulous fight promoters led by 50 Cent. Yes, we’ve seen it all before but in the hands of accomplished filmmakers we are drawn into the lives of these working class fighters. Billy goes from hero to zero in a heartbeat. Kurt Sutter familiar with the tragedy arches of characters from his work on Sons of Anarchy, skilfully navigates the melodramatic terrain of the narrative.
The challenge for Fuqua and Sutter is trying to create a fresh tale from this old formula. Gyllenhaal method acting take on Billy lifts the film up from its genre conventions and the film is transcended in the process. 50 Cent and Forrest Whitaker are strong in support, and Naomi Harris makes the most of an under written supporting role as a social worker