Boxing films have consistently outshone any other sport in cinema. Through decade after decade, if you look at the best sport film, it is regularly based around the sport of boxing.
In 2015’s Southpaw, Jake Gyllenhall stars as Billy Hope, the middleweight champion of the world and husband to Maureen (Rachael McAdams) and father to their young daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the film sees Hope having to work through the loss of his wife in an accidental shooting, in terms of both his sub sequential loss of custody of his daughter, and attempting to revive his boxing career.
Fuqua’s career includes a number of action drama’s (King Arthur, Shooter, Olympus has fallen, and The Equaliser) and frankly they have ranged in quality (King Arthur an especially disappointing film).
The roots of Southpaw though, for me, a directly rooted in 1982’s Rocky III. Early in that film, a brawl between Rocky and Clubber Lang – a fighter trying to draw the champion into a fight, ultimately leading to the death of Rocky’s trainer Mickey. The rest of the film sees Rocky attempting to come to terms with that and how he can return to the ring. If in that scene, it had not been Mickey, but Rocky’s wife Adrienne, then you’ve got your hands on Southpaw.
None of that makes it a bad film, that only serves as the ancestry of the film. In this, Gyllenhaal has clearly made a physical commitment to the role with the condition that he is in and his performance outside of the ring in the most emotional moments really add to the drama. In a way, he achieves what Stallone couldn’t with the middle Rocky films, in the moments of highest drama.
Beyond his wife and daughter, the supporting cast includes Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson as Hope’s agent , Naomie Harris as a supervisor in child services, and Forest Whitaker as Titus ‘Tick’ Wills a trainer Hope approaches for help. In keeping with traditional Whitaker is outstanding in his role, and Harris too adds real support to the story. I’ve nothing polite to say about the performance of Jackson (which has been true of every role that I’ve seen him in) so I will say nothing at all.
The soundtrack of the film is worthy of attention Eminem’s Phenomenonal featuring in a key moment. Eminem, who had been lined up to take on the lead role at one point but withdrew, offered two new songs to the overall film.
The film is another solid addition to the pantheon of movie boxing drama. It’s no champion and heavy on the cliches at time, but goes the distance and just about wins on points.
Southpaw is now available to purchase.