I walked into the cinema with a preconceived expectation that "Southpaw" was going to be another boxing film with a clichéd tale about a man turning around his life for the good of something greater than himself. It was an expectation that I was willing to ignore in the hope (no pun intended) of seeing something new. I then realised while I was waiting for the movie to begin that when it comes to the fight game, there is only so much you can tell. Boxing is always going to be clichéd, but that is why we come back to see the same story over and over again. Everybody loves an underdog and everybody loves to see a person fall from grace and then with a hard fought struggle, reclaim their dignity through redemption.
How many fight films have there been? Anybody could name at least three, and most are pretty good stories. 'Rocky' made a star out of Stallone, 'Raging Bull' got De Niro the academy award and films like 'Cinderella Man' and 'Ali' were critically acclaimed with standout performances from their leading men. I am not saying that "Southpaw" is up with these films but the story is no different from any of these great movies. What is common are the performances of the actors, who give their everything, with each one outstandingly giving a predictable script the feeling that you have just watched a good piece of theatre.
This is out and out Jake Gyllenhaal's film, with a performance that is every bit as worthy of an awards season nomination than anything he has done in the past. He will be ignored by organisations such as the Academy of Film for this performance but he is truly an actor at the top of his game. It will not be long before he finds the role that will put him in the top echelon of actors that have ever stood in front of a camera. He plays Billy Hope who is the undisputed, undefeated Light Heavyweight champion of the world who uses raw angry emotion in the ring to win his fights. In his corner is his beautiful loyal wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), who is becoming concerned that Billy is starting to take too much punishment for the sake of victory inside the ring. After a tragic accident, Billy loses everything including his daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence) to child services and his world championship belts. He is a man at the very bottom and with the help of an old school trainer named Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), Billy turns his life around for the sake of his daughter and finds the determination he needs to live the rest of his life with dignity and respect.
Yes, yes. Very clichéd, and we have all seen it before but the film pulls on the heart strings and you find yourself really wanting Billy to come out on top. Young Oona is magnificent as Billy's daughter, giving an emotional performance of a young girl confused and angry about her fathers fall from grace. Forest Whitaker doesn't let the production down and 50 cent is surprisingly engaging in his turn as the boxing promoter that is only really interested in making money and lots of it, to the detriment of his fighters. Antione Fuqua has given the audience his best production since 'Training Day' and has turned a predicable script into a movie that oozes feeling and emotion.
Ignore the overdone story and focus on the memorable performances of the actors and you will come away with a very satisfying experience.
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