by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday October 27, 2015


Director Antoine Fuqua is boxing fan, and he wanted his film "Southpaw" to feel like a live, blood-and-sweat experience in the ring. To that effect, he had star Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as co-star Miguel Gomez, do their own fight work.

It was a bold, but successful, choice; when the punches land, they carry some weight and some muscle. This project misses boxing movie greatness, but not by much.

There's more to the story than a few matches, of course. Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, a former delinquent whose rage and willingness to absorb hard blows have propelled him to world championship status. Hope doesn't have a lot of technique; he's gotten by on sheer (literally) hard-headedness and the kind of berserker fury that he can't always control, but which he can reliably summon.

Wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) watches him with concern as his bouts become more punishing. His speech is a little slurred and stammering from time to time; Mo (as he calls her) is worried that he's doing irreparable damage to himself.

Less concerned is Billy's manager, Jordan (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson), whose primary focus is the business end of things. When a scrappy young fighter named Miguel Gomez (Escobar) repeatedly challenges Billy to a match, Billy wants to set up a match to shut Gomez down and end his aggravating, insulting overtures. Jordan, however, doesn't see much profit in pairing his champ against a no-name.

A sudden turn of events results in Billy losing everything: Career, house, wife, and daughter (Oona Laurence). Finding himself at the absolute bottom, Billy has nowhere to go but up -- if, that is, he can summon the courage to master his rage and rebuild his life through work and discipline. Forest Whitaker enters the scene here as Tick Wills, a trainer who refuses to work with professional boxers. He's a combination of Burgess Meredith's character from the "Rocky" films, Yoda, and drill sergeant, but Whitaker brings the character to life.

The Steelbook Blu-ray release offers a small slate of extras. The deleted scenes include a whole subplot between Billy and a social worker; the features " 'Southpaw': Inside the Ring" has Furqua talking about his wish to make the movie's boxing sequences as realistic as possible, and shows how the director trained alongside his star; screenwriter Kurt Sutter weighs in on Billy's character and his story arc. Several members of the cast gather for a Screen Actors Guild Q&A session moderated by Fandango's Dave Karger, and the "Extended Training Montage" is basically a music video showcasing Gyllenhaal's twice-daily workouts.

The film suffers from trying too hard for mass-market and cross-market appeal: It starts as a romance before taking on "gangsta" elements (including a misjudged hiphop soundtrack). Only late in the game does "Southpaw" seem to remember that it's nominally a sports movie and get back to the ring in earnest.... speaking of which, that;s a good word for the film's dark and sometimes plodding mood. This is an earnest film, sometimes to quite moving effect (as in scenes in which Billy is doing his best, and failing, to reconnect with his daughter, or, at other times, force himself through sheer will into being a more mature and capable person), but at other times the sheer weight of the drama feels grim and takes the shine off a film that seemingly was never meant to have a lot of shine to begin with.

All that aside, this is still a movie boxing buffs are going to get into. Rise, fall, redemption... what's not to love about a movie that, underneath it all, is this formally correct?





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Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.