Southpaw is not just a movie for those fans of boxing, as it is riveting entertainment for all, providing you don’t mind close-up shots of boxers being pummeled in a ring. The film tells the riveting story of Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), reigning Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. He seemingly has it all with an impressive career, a beautiful and loving wife (Rachel McAdamas), an adorable daughter (Oona Laurence) and a lavish lifestyle. When tragedy strikes and his lifelong manager and friend Jordan Mains (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) leaves him behind, Hope hits rock bottom and looses everything, including his daughter to social services. There is only one thing to do when you are at the bottom and that is to claw your way back up again. He seeks help and turns to an unlikely savior at a run-down local gym, Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), a retired fighter and trainer to the city’s toughest amateur boxers.
And so begins this story about redemption and fighting for your future with tenacity, without giving in to the bad influences in life, so whatever you achieve will be truly great. This film is directed by the acclaimed talent of Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY) and is about as real as you get with a total immersion in what is good and bad about a sport. The camera close-ups really do not miss a single bloody eye or bruised cheek or jarring upper cup move. The film opens with Billy winning a fight, but it is clear that he takes a lot of beating from his opponent and his body is not in great shape, including a constantly blurred eye and with this baggage Gyllenhaal creates a very believable character, not just in body bulk and build, but in mannerisms, the ability to box realistically and show how important family is to a great sportsman.
Rachel McAdams is equally impressive, showing what it takes to keep a family together when your husband is a champion sportsman, but she knows his foibles and the bad influences within the world he moves in and does her best to steer him away from temptations, but it is not enough and this is what creates the emotions which drive Billy to redeem himself. Oona Laurence as the daughter is very credible and shows a big emotional range to emphasize the love between a father and his daughter. 50 Cent is okay, but a one dimensional character who goes wherever the money is, but Forest Whitaker provides a great character portrait and the means for salvation for Billy and how he does this forms the key part of the second half of the film.
We don’t want to give too much away, as there is a lot of tension and emotion that propels you to a higher plain and it makes this film an absolute must see. Yes, you wince a bit during the boxing fights with the close camera work, but it makes it all the more visceral and realistic, but make no mistake, Jake Gyllenhaal is the main reason to watch this film, as he gives a wonderful performance of a proud and broken man where family is all.