Southpaw aspires to be a classic boxing movie. Jake Gyllenhaal, ripped like a wall of granite, plays Billy Hope, the light heavyweight champion of the world. Billy’s got it all – titles, wealth, fame, a mansion, an entourage, a loving wife and a caring daughter. And then, just like that, in a flash of anger, he loses it all. He hits rock bottom – even his daughter is taken away from him. But then he strives with a new ferociousness and pieces his life together again.
It’s the standard boxing redemption story with the requisite climactic bout in which the stakes are so much more than just the title. But despite writer Kurt Sutter’s unending collection of clichés, director Antoine Fuqua manages to keep you hooked – for the first hour at least. Gyllenhaal is unrecognizable underneath the bulk, the brooding eyes and brawling manner. He grunts more than talks. There are moments in the ring in which he is genuinely terrifying. It’s a mesmerizing transformation. Rachel McAdams as his wife brings a lively grace and sexiness into the story.
But it doesn’t last. Southpaw soon becomes a tired retread of training montages, melodrama and mumbling. Forest Whitaker, playing a world-weary trainer who takes Billy back to the top, is just flat-out boring. As I watched him expound philosophy, I wondered: is there any boxing movie trope that Sutter has left untouched.
The answer is no. So if you like formulaic stories about hulking men who hit people for a living, then this is a satisfying watch. For the rest of us, there are less bloody options out there.
I’m going with two and a half stars. Check out the video review here: