Southpaw sees the absolute deconstruction of the unbeaten middle-weight champion of the world Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), after his childhood sweetheart and longtime wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) is accidentally gunned down in an altercation with an eager, but disrespectful contender along with his entourage. Finding his life being torn down piece by piece almost overnight and struggling to retain custody of his daughter with his increasingly truculent and public behavior, without his wife and childhood sweetheart Billy has no one to keep him anchored and he quickly spirals out of control. In a last ditch effort to turn his life around to get his daughter back, Billy turns to Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), the one trainer who Billy admits had him beat, and that he only won that fight by a points decision that Billy chalks up to his unscrupulous Don King like manager Jordan (50 Cent) who may or may not have bought off one of the judges.
Billy Hope has to either rebuild his life from scratch, or roll over and die, going from mansions and millions to housing projects and mere dollars, all to get his understandably resentful daughter back from child protective services. It's a play on tropes I think, where most boxing movies focus on the coveted ascension to success and infamy, to win the belt and the recognition that comes with it, where Southpaw instead focuses on the heavy and ignominious fall from grace for Billy Hope and his real battle, the one to get his daughter back and all her love and all her forgiveness. Southpaw is a tale of redemption between a father and his daughter, so much so that the inevitable fight at the end feels more like an afterthought than it does the finale of the movie.
Even with the efforts taken to make Southpaw a somewhat unique entry into the sports genre, it's still a formulaic and predictable boxing movie at its core, but the emotion is there, in parts, although it was sometimes underdeveloped. Jake Gyllenhaal brought a powerful performance as Billy Hope, Rachel McAdams played her part well and Forest Whitaker came to act, everyone else were largely periphery characters, blank slates. I sure wish people would stop entertaining 50 Cent's delusions of being an actor though, thankfully he wasn't in it too much. There were glimmers of greatness in Southpaw, but it could never maintain its momentum or give much exploration into anything or anyone, or any explanation to anything outside of Billy Hope himself. Like why was the child protective services lady even at the fight? We were given no indication whatsoever that there was any kind of relationship between her, Billy or his daughter outside of a professional capacity, she was just kinda... there. I think it'd be fair to call Southpaw more of a character study than it was a traditional boxing movie, so those expecting another 'Cinderella Man' or something like it, may be disappointed.
I have this problem with a lot of Antoine Fuqua's movies lately, they don't flow well, transition smoothly or have a strong core narrative, and they very rarely give a good sense of time or pacing within the movie. The Equalizer had all the same problems Southpaw has, the scenes are strung together with little flow or sense, they feel disjointed. The boxing scenes were sporadic, adequate and occasionally visceral, but I was expecting much better. The main boxing match with the man who was indirectly responsible for Maureen's death was surprisingly 'matter-of-fact', I was expecting a much more emotionally charged fight, but I'm sad to say that it was nothing special. The boxing elements were largely secondary to exploring the self-destructive pathos of Billy Hope and the steps taken to correct his behavior inside and outside of the ring, mostly through Tick. Southpaw is no Raging Bull or Rocky, but it's a touching story about the unbreakable love of this father for his daughter, one that might leave boxing fans a little disappointed though.
Written by - The Sentry - 28/08/2015