For a film about boxing Southpaw sure plays out like a WWE tag team match, only with poor old Billy Hope taking on an army of boxing film cliches and hard luck happenings by himself. Just when he manages to come to terms with one heart rending astonishment, another arises, bigger and meaner. All it needs is the obligatory WWE announcers breathlessly and loudly screaming us updates;
‘Oh hell now his wife of several years has been killed!’
‘Gosh darn now he’s gone from a millionaire to living in a one bedroom shitbox.’
‘Now they done took his kid! But wait, now the kid – who five seconds ago loved him with all her tiny being – has decided she hates Daddy!’
‘Now his manager has dropped him. And his trainer. And they’ve taken his primary rival on as a client. And all his friends have dumped him. And no one recognises him. And for some reason he can’t fight anymore… And.’
Look I know these films need to break things down before building them up but dayyyymmm. That all seems so very unlikely. I mean just going from being a millionaire to a broke chump seems remote. The rest seems to pile on a little thick.
Near the conclusion I half expected the fight referee to pull off a mask and be Billy’s grandma, who would then spit in his face and award the fight and his daughter to the opponent.
But Jake Gyllenhaal is in it, and he has been rocking every role in the past couple years, so I guess most overlooked the impossibility of events. The film’s actual secret strength is Forest Whitaker as Billy’s reluctant (aren’t they all? Don’t any trainers want to train fighters who everyone knows are destined to win it all?) trainer Tick Wills. He and Jake manage to do enough to mostly overlook the ridiculousness of Billy’s misfortune, and while their training sequences are well short of Rocky standards, they get the job done.
Southpaw’s biggest challenge is making a beautiful, chiselled and capable Jake Gyllenhaal look inept and broken. Sure it defies logic and demands that we ignore realism to get there, but if you can do that Southpaw works as well as almost all boxing movies do.
If you can’t shelve common sense – and I am struggling – then this is semi-competent Gyllenhaal-filler in between his ‘For Your Consideration’ roles, with a welcome Forest Whitaker sighting.
Final Rating – For us Standard Folk – 6.7 / 10. Nearly, not quite.
Final Rating – For the Punchdrunk – 7 / 10. Yo Donnie Darko got ripped!