Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Southpaw Movie Review

Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw is a little chaotically scripted by Kurt Sutter with plot points that are occasionally unbelievable, nonsensical, or irrelevant, but it is Fuqua’s most restrained directing effort I can recall and contains enough moral uplift that it just crosses the line of what’s worth watching as a minor diversion.

Jake Gyllenhaal is impressive as Billy Hope, the light heavyweight champion of the world. Hope (and Gyllenhaal by extension) is physically imposing with a ripped torso and biceps. He has an anger control problem that remains mostly confined to the ring. So that he garners our sympathies, he’s got a beautiful wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), and daughter, both of whom he adores and dotes on. Maureen doesn’t want him to keep fighting because his style allows him to endure punch after punch until he’s angry enough to pummel his opponent. His manager (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) wants him to sign a three fight deal.

Like anyone with anger control issues, even if he doesn’t direct it at his family, the odds that they will pay a price are increasingly likely. And Maureen pays the ultimate price as a bystander. Billy’s life progressively and pretty rapidly falls apart until he hits bottom, his license revoked, his house repossessed, and his daughter under state care.

Movie boxing usually involves constant punching with bone crunching blows landing on faces seemingly without end. Real boxing tends to involve a lot of dancing around and strategy. Fuqua’s direction of the fights sits comfortably in between so it’s entertaining enough for sports action but not trumped up to the point of absurdity. And he handles the drama with a heretofore unseen gentle hand. There are some heartbreaking moments in this movie, most of them involving the developing relationship between Billy and his daughter, even if her character is poorly developed and usually used as a prop.

Sutter’s story relies on the shopworn cliché of a down-and-out protagonist seeing help from a reluctant guru/protector. In this case coming in the form of Forest Whitaker as Tick Wills, a no-nonsense boxing gym owner. He’s something like a cross between Clint Eastwood’s and Morgan Freeman’s characters in Million Dollar Baby, complete with a blind eye. Though the clichés are all there from Tick’s strict rules and caveats to the inevitable disagreement between teacher and student, none of them are pushed too hard.

This is just good old fashioned Hollywood entertainment with no frills, no social agenda, no big ideas. It’s just simple storytelling. The film takes a lot of inspiration from Rocky and some of its sequels, but doesn’t mirror that classic through the end. Billy fights at the end as a means of securing financial status to get his daughter back, so it doesn’t matter whether he wins in the end or not. But this is the new millennium and we’re fourteen years past 9/11. No one wants to see the hero lose anymore.

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