Punches in Bunches | Southpaw Review
A fighter loses their loved one? Check. They have to fight through their struggles by starting from the bottom and working their way up? Check. And, in the end, they are triumphant? Check. Movies that stick so closely to tropes are often slighted, and rightfully so. You can only watch the same movie with a different coat of paint so many times. But, having said that, Southpaw’s strengths vastly outweigh the predictable storyline. The ride getting to the well-known final destination is tear-jerkingly awesome.
Boxer Billy Hope, played by the mesmerizingly buff Jake Gyllenhaal, is on the top of his game. He’s an undefeated 42-0 boxer with an incredible mansion, a beautiful family and four title defenses. But, it’s his style of fighting that would lead to the ensuing tragedy. Hope is one of those fighters that eats punch to throw haymakers. He builds up his anger and strength through the pain, much to the chagrin of his wife. But, the pain in the ring is nothing compared to the devastation out of it.
As seen in the trailers, Billy’s wife, Maureen (played by the ever beautiful Rachel McAdams), was devastatingly killed, causing Hope’s life to fall apart. Rachel McAdams played the role perfectly. She was equal parts sexy and intelligent. She was his rock, and that fact was quite apparent through the short time she was on screen. Her power in her ability to take care of their family as well as Billy’s career was nothing short of amazing. She was the crux, the hope, if you will, that tomorrow will be something to cherish. She was smart enough to see that Billy’s ultra-shady promoter, Jordan Mains (played by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), was only looking for a paycheck and that his well-being was more important than the extra luxuries. 50 Cent does play the sleazy promoter quite well, especially when he practically forces Billy into the ring to lose to his next meal ticket. Maureen’s death was the tipping point of the Hope family. During Billy’s first fight after her death, he looks to her empty seat, and you can see the defeat on his face. There’s nothing left. Her death nearly destroyed Billy, but even more sadly, completely changed their daughter Leila Hope (played by the wonderful newcomer Oona Laurence).
Antoine Fuqua and Kurt Sutter (and everyone else involved) did an outstanding job of showing the sheer violence of Billy in the ring against the tender and loving side with his daughter, Leila. Leila was the personification of innocence, just an adorable child trying to figure out the world when things took a turn for the worse. As she traverses the trials of Billy losing her to the state, you slowly get to see that innocence wane into the ether. The adorable innocent child that once was, slowly becomes full of hatred and resentment. But, as is blatantly in our faces, there is still hope.
Eventually Billy convinces famed coach Tick Willis (played by the always fabulous Forest Whitaker), who coached the only man to “beat” Billy, to train him. The boxer didn’t end up winning the fight against Billy, but Billy knew in his heart that he should have lost that fight. As you’d expect, Billy and Tick but heads at first, but Tick eventually does relent. It seems they can finally get the revenge that they’ve both been seeking.
Southpaw was one of those rare movies that really got to me. (Damn you, Kurt Sutter) It’s ability to keep pulling at the heart strings every time a sense of security was about to crash upon us was just unrelenting. Even the happy moments, which were relatively prevalent, always had us wondering what could have been. As for the actual boxing parts, they were well done. They opted for a more PPV style of presentation, which was great and really kept you in the action. The soundtrack, ushered in by the likes of Eminem, 50 Cent and The Notorious B.I.G, perfectly set the tone for the fast-paced boxing film.