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Southpaw (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 124 minutes.

Not for children.

I loathe boxing, which has no place in a civilized society, and I generally loathe boxing movies, like Rocky (1976), and all its iterations which generally lionize this barbaric anacronism. Except for the saccharine ending, though, this one is different. Directed by Antoine Fuqua who knows how to make a violent story even more violent on the screen, this story of Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), and daughter, Lleila (Oona Laurence), shows boxing to be the brutal sport it is.

This film isn’t just physically brutal, it’s psychologically brutal, a tough film to watch, but I was mesmerized. Unfortunately, Fuqua falls into the same pit into which others before him have fallen and exacerbates the sound of the punches so much that if they really were punches that actually sounded this loud and horrifying, every punch would be potentially fatal and nobody could stand up to the continued punching. While it achieves its purpose to show how rough the sport is, it’s barbaric enough as it is and doesn’t need this phony enhancement.

Fuqua says, “I told Jake, ‘We’re going to capture every moment. So if you’re tired or you pass out or you vomit, it’s going to be on film.’ And I told my DP Mauro, ‘There’s no re-lighting. They don’t re-light Madison Square Garden or the fights in Vegas’.” True to that, the boxing sequences are so brutal that my assistant said she closed her eyes during them.

The film starts out on a low note, with a song by Eminem (who was the first choice to play the lead) that is, naturally, filled with F-bombs (take the profanity and vulgarity away from Eminem's lyrics and all you have is the sound of silence). But it’s mostly uphill from there.

Gyllenhaal did all of the boxing scenes himself without a double. In order to be realistic, Gyllenhall trained for six months learning how to box and running 8 hours a day, so he really would look like the light-heavyweight fighter he plays. One thing I’ll say for the guy, he’s buff.

The film is enhanced by fine performances by Forest Whitaker, who plays Tick Willis, the old trainer who takes Billy under his wing when he’s down and out, and Curtis “Fifty Cent” Jackson, who plays Billy’s manager, Jordon Mains, a man out for everything he can get for himself.

Gyllenhaal gives an Oscar®-worthy performance but Laurence gives a performance that is nothing short of phenomenal for one only 12 years old. Without her this would not be the film it is. McAdams gives the high quality performance she always does; she is a treat to watch.

Unfortunately, Fuqua ends the film with what, for me, was a thud of a clichéd Hollywood ending, apparently because he is a boxer himself and likes boxing, so he never once shows or even alludes to the long term damage done to boxers by the vicious blows that are constantly being absorbed by their heads and bodies. Why make a movie like this and then chicken out? Cui bono?