Southpaw is a film by Antoine Fuqua who is best know for how work on Training Day, The Equalizer, and Olympus Has Fallen. The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, 50 Cent, Naomie Harris, Victor Ortiz, Miguel Gomez, and Beau Knapp.
Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) is a light heavyweight championship boxer who is at the top of his game thanks to an unorthodox style that relies on receiving enough punishment from his opponents to put him in the right mindset to win the fight. After an exceptionally difficult fight and a challenge laid down by a strong up and coming contender, Billy and his wife Maureen (McAdams) begin to wonder how much longer he can continue. After tragedy strikes, Billy must get back to his humble beginnings and, with the help of trainer Tick Wills (Whitaker), looks to regain everything he has lost.
I am so glad I knew pretty much nothing about this movie going in. Most of the marketing for the movie tells you what sends Billy's life on a free fall into nothingness which, to me, would have taken away one of the most emotionally powerful moments that I experienced while watching the film. The trailer I have posted below stays away from what I'm talking about so you can feel safe viewing it. With that out of the way, this is a very powerful film that has all the classic beats you would expect from a quality boxing movie. I'm sure there will be tons of comparisons to Raging Bull and the Rocky films, the latter of which kept coming to mind while I was watching, and they will mostly be favorable.
Antoine Fuqua does a great job presenting the story in a way that lets Gyllenhaal's ability to completely take over a role be the centerpiece of the whole thing. The rest of the cast is solid with 50 cent being the low man on the totem pole, which is not unexpected, and I really believe the film would have been nothing more than mediocre without the lead actor's exceptional talents carrying the load. Ever since End of Watch, I really feel like Jake has taken huge leaps forward and become one of the best leading men in the business today with outstanding performances in films like Prisoners and Nightcrawler being real standouts. I've always liked both Rachel McAdams and Forest Whitaker and neither of them do anything here to change that opinion. If only 50 cent could actually act.
As I mentioned earlier, this movie treads very deep into the familiar waters that boxing films have been in before although Fuqua finds a way to keep things fresh and, for the most part, stays away from a lot of the boxing clichés that have plagued many other films. The ring action is very well done as director of photography Mauro Fiore (Training Day, Avatar) gives us some new perspectives and angles to keep the action from being too much like stuff we've seen before. I would say this is one of the more realistic portrayals of ring action that I've seen in a while. That being said, Billy's fighting style does lean heavily towards what we see in Rocky where just about every punch lands and defense is nearly non existent. At least, with this movie, it's actually part of the plot and one of the things that drives the story forward instead of just being there because it's way more fun than seeing a Mayweather fight.
Southpaw has a chance at ending up in my top 10 movies for the year and Gyllenhaal's performance most certainly will as well. This is an emotionally powerful movie with great acting, stunning visuals, and a story of redemption and inspiration you won't soon forget.