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Billy “the Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is boxing’s undefeated darling. He is a battle-hardened champion backed by dedicated friends, fans and family. His wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams) is arguably the key to his inside and outside ring success. They met through “the system,” having met and struggled together through various orphanages in Hell’s Kitchen. But following a spat with a potential contender, Maureen ends up dead.
Without his wife, and a dwindling boxing career, Billy’s life begins to fall apart. The money dries up fast and his home is foreclosed, but worst of all, he loses his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) to child protective services. These tragic events spur Billy to clean up his act and get back into the ring. With the help of his new coach Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), Billy goes toe-to-toe with his demons.
Southpaw is the lovechild of many (and better) boxing films. The story, written by Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy), is essentially a riches-to-rags (ala Rocky V) redemption quest, pitting Hope against a multitude of social and boxing cliches too many to count. Those melodramatic hurdles don’t warrant any explanation from Sutter, as they’re only meant to underscore Hope’s progress towards overcoming them. Sutter’s body of work almost always skews in this direction, so it’s no real surprise, but in this situation the viewer doesn’t care about the movie’s hero. That’s a problem for a story of redemption. All is for naught though, as Hope abandons his journey and agrees to the climax fight for all the wrong reasons.
On the other glove, filmmaker Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and his cinematographer Mauro Fiore, deliver a pitch perfect opening round. Muted tones and focused aggression behind the curtain of boxing’s elitist culture encompass Southpaw’s opening, followed by the bright lights, gawking spectators and maniacal attitude of the film’s first match. It is, unfortunately, the film’s first and best sequence, giving way to the aforementioned melodramatics. Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) is the film’s greatest champion, but we’ve seen him in better roles. The bulked-up actor is overmatched when he eventually falls victim to unbalanced execution and writing. Oh, and by the way, Hope is right-handed until the final blow.
Steer clear or find yourself getting KTFO’d.
Southpaw is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Chris Giroux
Chris Giroux is founder and editor-in-charge at Movie Reelist, an entertainment news and review blog serving the most fanatic moviegoers. Chris started his publication in Detroit in 2010 and has since reviewed hundreds of films and interviewed numerous talent across the country. He is an avid film festival attendee and red carpet photographer, having shot the likes of Steven Spielberg, Bill Murray, Mark Hamill, and more. Chris grew up in New Mexico, where he studied mass media writing while working in post-production and multimedia authoring. It is also where he discovered Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from New York, resulting in an unhealthy Kurt Russell obsession.

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