Three out of Five Kernels
“Southpaw” isn’t the boxing movie you’ve never seen before. But you have probably never seen it quite like this.
Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is at the top of the boxing world. He just won a world championship and has a loving family including his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), and daughter Leila (Oona Laurence).
Then in one moment he loses it all. It’s at the bottom where he learns how to fight a different battle and in a different way.
Emotions run high in this film, ranging from Hope’s anger, which he uses in the ring, to the pain he feels when he loses it all. Fortunately, Gyllenhaal is an actor who can take these emotions and display them for all to see. That makes Hope feel like a real person, not a character you are watching on the screen.
The authenticity also comes from McAdams’ performance. Hope’s relationship with his wife and daughter also feels authentic, making it all the more heartbreaking when he loses them both.
“Southpaw” doesn’t just have characters throwing punches. The story also throws some hard moments at the audience — moments that make you feel knocked down, just like the characters.
Those scenes are so gut-wrenching because the camera doesn’t cut away when the moments get too tense or too sad. It stays with the characters and draws all the emotions out.
“Southpaw” doesn’t pull the punches on emotion, or with the violence. The boxing scenes show every hit, every drop of blood and sweat. It also brilliantly uses a point-of-view camera from Hope’s perspective so that the audience sees the hits he receives just as he would, the gloves coming in close, making contact, pulling away again and again. This makes the audience feel even more in on the action.
All these work to the advantage of the film. However, the story remains a little predictable. It’s yet another man fighting to redeem himself while training in a rundown gym with a wise old trainer because he’s got nothing else, and it all comes down to this one big match. We’ve seen in it “Rocky,” “Cinderella Man” and countless other films, not just boxing movies.
That doesn’t mean that “Southpaw” isn’t good, it just means that if you’re going in expecting something other than the traditional “going the distance” sports movie you won’t find it. Like its main character, “Southpaw” is able to redeem itself by having incredible performances and unique camera styles that make the cliché story engaging and worth watching.