Review: Southpaw

southpaw_nws3 Fresh off his amazing performance in Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal teams up with director Antoine Fuqua for the boxing drama film, Southpaw. When a world champion boxer loses everything he must learn to change his outlook and rebuild himself from the ground up. Sports redemption stories normally follow a pretty simple pattern and this one is no different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The film centers around the life of world light heavyweight champion, Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal). After his 43nd victory without a loss Billy is seriously demonstrating punch drunk behavior (suffering from brain damage). His wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) tells him that he needs to take a break and suggests that he might want to retire while he can still function properly. Billy and Maureen have a daughter named Leila (Oona Laurence) who has never been allowed to watch her father fight, but is very much aware of his mental capacities or lack thereof.

After his successful title defense fight, Billy is openly challenged by Miguel 'Magic' Escobar (Miguel Gomez) for a shot at the title. Miguel constantly taunts Billy, including at a charity event for the orphanage that both he and Maureen lived in as children. In an unlikely event, tempers flare, and one of Miguel’s bodyguards mistakenly shoots and kills Maureen. Heartbroken by the loss of his wife and frankly caregiver, Billy goes on a destructive path of drugs, drinking, and violence. In the wake of his reckless behavior the state takes custody of Leila. This is really where the film takes off. Forced to give up everything he has due to mounting bills, Billy is put out on the street and it forces him to struggle like he had as an orphaned kid. Billy’s relationship is strain with Leila and she rightfully blames him for losing her to the system. Their visits together with a counselor name Angela Rivera (Naomie Harris) are some of the film’s more brutal. Juxtaposed against the brutality of the fights, these scenes carry more emotional weight and cut much deeper. Billy eventually finds Titus "Tick" Wills (Forest Whitaker) the owner of a local gym and trainer. He asked Tick to train him and hopefully get his daughter back in the process. Like it was stated earlier the story is a fairly simple and predictable one.

While the script was less of a home run and pulled the film down a bit, the actors performances were incredibly strong. Gyllenhaal fresh off the highly underrated Nightcrawler gives an equal transformative performance as Billy Hope. His resurgence as a real force in the acting world makes me even more excited for what he does next. Forest Whitaker does a great job as the no-nonsense coach and ultimately mentor to the erratic Hope. He was measured and subtle here, and we haven’t seen that side of him in a while. The work by Oona Laurence was impressive for an actress her age. She was able to convey a sense of anger and disappointment with her father while showing admiration of the punch drunk hero when it came time to do so. The film’s biggest fault is the script. Refusing to break out of its cliched existence only does it damage. However, with Fuqua’s direction the predictable script is brought to life and is elevated far above where it would otherwise have been.

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