After years of the Rocky series, Raging Bull, the teenage Never Back Down and The Fighter, we know that movies about boxing tend to have a run-of-the mill storyline. A skinny boy from a weak socio-economic background punches his way through to the top, with a stronger rival willing to take on the newbie. Southpaw differs here, with Jake Gyllenhaal’s character already an established World Lightweight Heavyweight Champion. He stars as the undefeated Billy Hope, whose aggressive play is showcased in the first five minutes of the film in the picturesque Madison Square Garden.

His wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) tries to convince him to retire at his peak, but Billy refuses. His greedy manager Jordan Mains (50 Cent) hurriedly makes him sign contracts, and lines up fights.  A brash boxer Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar (Miguel Gomez) pushes Billy to the edge, tormenting him. A brawl ensues, where Maureen gets accidentally shot by Miguel’s brother, Hector. From here on, it’s a downward spiral for Billy, with daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) being looked after by Child Protective Services, thanks to Billy’s dangerous lifestyle.

The project, originally slated to have Eminem as the lead, was based on the rapper’s 8 Mile story. Screenwriter Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) was inspired by Eminem’s life and decided to take on the project. Director Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen) creates a predictable storyline, using dark gyms and lone walks to create atmosphere. The point-of-view shots are handled impressively, with Gyllenhaal in focus at all times, especially during the fights. Editing darts in and out, while Eminem’s music plays in the background.

Forest Whitaker plays Tick Wills, a veteran boxer who owns a gym, and trains Billy. His role is similar to that of Djimon Hounsou (in Never Back Down); a fighter, who loses a major fight, and retreats and starts his own boxing centre. Forest and Djimon, both train disgruntled young adults, looking for an outlet for their frustrations. Whitaker differs in that he is not perfect and accepts his flaws, while he’s straying away from his principles. He drinks and abuses, and offers no respite to the anguished Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal, after the critically acclaimed Nightcrawler, put on 30 pounds for this role. He screams in response to everything that consumes the widower and boxer, Billy Hope. When he’s not screaming, Gyllenhaal mumbles his away around, acutely aware of Whitaker’s uneasy presence.

Billy Hope overpowers a standard script, punching you in the gut at times, and finally lifting you up. It might be a bit too early to be pitting this one against Rocky’s latest installment Creed, but Southpaw has the spirit.

Why Should You Watch This Film ?

Though Southpaw brings nothing new, Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting prowess is on full display as the  vengeful boxer. Southpaw leads with both hands, bringing blood and sweat onto the screen.

Shlomoh Samuel