By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
If Southpaw is supposed to unseat the renown held by the Rocky film series, then it’s certainly drawing first blood. In one corner, we have the rising talent of Jake Gyllenhaal. The movie Nightcrawler showed him delightfully playing a seedy character and this new one sees him as Billy Hope, a distraught family man when he loses his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), to a gunfire incident. To make life worse, the courts take his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) away when he shows signs of self-destruction.
On top of all that is him losing his lightweight title. In the world of boxing, he had a long streak of being undefeated. When a younger upstart challenges him in and out of the ring, emotions get heated and to see them at odds provides the most intense moments in the film. These two boys in the hood will always represent opposite extremes and in what comes to blows, just who is the superior product is in what ideologies defines an individual. The mantras this movie presents are great. In how it get delivered is with the powerhouse performances by the cast. Forest Whitaker does an amazing job in being Titus, a mentor to Billy. He used to be a title fighter before hanging his gloves up to run a gym for underprivileged kids. While not immediately clear, even he suffers from shame. His back story might be worth exploring but ultimately this story is about Billy.
Oddly, there’s questionable plot elements that does not get fully addressed. Maureen’s death was not ruled a homicide. In this age, it’s possible to trace the bullet to the gun that was fired. The subplot about the police searching for the shooter is never explored (they gave up too easy) and details to Billy’s anger management classes is hardly even looked at. While one can make for a compelling film and the other not, the focus on Billy’s redemption is just not quite there. It shifts in and out of being a character-driven film to that of being a rehash of Rocky IV.
Thankfully the world of gladiatorial sports is not glorified. There’s a reason in why Leila is not allowed to watch daddy fight. Even though she wants to, her parents just do not want to expose that violent world to her. Although this movie is rated R for its use of profanity and violence, there’s heartwarming family moments to applaud at. For the protagonist to discover that Life is a Highway, only Tom Cochrane knows the answers in his song that summarizes everything Billy Hope went through.
3½ Stars out of 5