Boxing movies have been a mainstay for years. Rocky, Raging Bull and others have examined the dynamics of those brave enough to tussle in the ring. What they have in common is not the focus on the sport but the people. Using boxing as a cipher to explore all facets of humanity – from the players to the spectators – every emotion is covered.
Southpaw delves into these in a reasonably fresh way. It’s difficult conjuring something original in the boxing genre but the performers and direction highlight its enduring popularity.
A World Light Heavyweight champion, Billy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is at the top of his game. Watched by his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and daughter, he thinks life is good. Events take a sad turn when Maureen dies during a fight. Falling into a spiral of despair, Billy’s life crumbles. After his daughter is given to welfare, Billy resolves to turn things around. With the help of trainer Tick (Forest Whitaker), Billy aims to reclaim his life and climb his way back up the career ladder.
An intense exploration of self-destruction and redemption, Southpaw is gripping viewing. Whilst the fight sequences are of the usual nail-biting standard, it’s the psychological elements gaining interest. It only takes one fatal mis-step to wreck Billy’s world, leading to an emotional cataclysm. How he deals with fate’s dark hand provides him another chance of re-building his life. His relationships with others aid in his re-discovery of who he is and his former passion for boxing.
Directed with intensity by Antoine Fuqua, Southpaw succeeds in having a gritty, urban feel. Although Fuqua occasionally delves into the clichés the genre brings, he is able to put his own unique stamp on the story. He is helped by Gyllenhaal’s strong performance, again confirming his ability to successfully inhabit characters. Whitaker makes the most of what could have been a clichéd ‘mentor role’, giving it depth. The boxing scenes are expertly handled, with the precise skill in developing each move seen.
Southpaw may not be anything particularly new, but it delivers its own impact. There is no doubt boxing movies will continue to be seen with the ‘against all odds’ motif always finding favour with audiences in and out of the ring.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 7