Thursday 6 August 2015

Southpaw ... Lacking a punch

I WANT to say right off the bat that the poster for director Antoine Fuqua's Southpaw is misleading. It shows Rachel McAdams holding the head of Jake Gyllenhaal in an embrace, leading viewers to assume that both will play big parts in this boxing film.
  Alas, only one person survives the early culling, and while Gyllenhaal  has the ripped body and acting chops to carry this film on his own, it would have been better to have the spunky McAdams with him.

  Southpaw is about a boxer, Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal), who has everything, including a sexy wife and cute bespectacled daughter, a luxury car and a huge mansion with pool and pool room. Oh, there's also his great name that carries great significance.
   The killing of his wife Maureen (McAdams) sends Billy on a downward spiral. He proceeds to lose everything, including his career, daughter, car and mansion.
   He hits rock bottom, until he steps into a gym run by Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), who offers him hope, a janitor's job cleaning toilets and great workouts to improve his defence. What's a boxing film without a great coach anyway?
  In fact, I would go so far as to say that Whitaker provides the one-two jabs that are missing in this formulaic sports film. As soon as Billy enters Tick's gym, you know that he's on his road to redemption and that he'll get his chance to regain his honour, pride, boxing title and money.
   Tick's a Catholic (there's a crucifix on his office wall) who is stern, caring and fines people for uttering profanities in his gym. He's like other film boxing trainers, who offer words of wisdom and tough love.
  Billy's first match after his downfall is a charity match that takes place in a church. The
All is forgiven for Billy Hope. 
symbolism of this couldn't have been greater, with the setting suggesting that God looks favourably on Billy's turn-around.
   A beef I have about this film is the killing that precipitated Billy's loss of power. Billy is taunted by rival Miguel Escobar. There's a scuffle and no one really knows what happened or who shot whom, but Maureen is suddenly breathing her last breaths.
    There's a feeble police interrogation and nothing else is mentioned of it for the rest of the film. I'd have thought that New York's finest would have put more effort into investigating the killing of the wife of the world light welterweight champion.
   Billy's inmate mother gives birth to him in a prison and he grows up in an orphanage, where he meets his future wife when he's 12. She sticks with him when he spends time in jail on more than one occasion.
  His doggedness and his ability to take a heavy beating in the ring see him rise to the top. But in a way, he's still a boy who can't do many things by himself. He even admits that it was his wife who made all the decisions.
   Gyllenhaal gives a credible performance, and you've got to admire his dedication to achieve a great body, after he lost weight to play a TV reporter in last year's Nightcrawler. You can feel that his Billy's rough upbringing has a lot to do with his boxing style, that is, someone who happily takes a beating before he overpowers his opponents.
  However, Tick urges him to control his anger and use his mind to beat his opponents.
  The editing is commendable but it's also what's you'd expect in boxing film. There are a lot of quick matching cuts during the matches, but I was pleasantly surprised to see editor John Refoua include point-of-view shots in the final match. There's also a beautiful slow-mo shot in the final match, with the editor prompting us to enjoy the sweat coming from a falling boxer.
  Rapper Curtis "No Cent" Jackson (get it??) appears as Billy's unctuous boxing promoter, who pushes Billy to take on extra matches so that the former can earn more money.
 out of 5 stars


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