From director Antoine Fuqua, whose previous hits have included Training Day and The Equalizer, comes Southpaw, an excursion into the life of a boxer named Billy Hope. Orphaned at a young age, Hope grew up in foster homes and began fighting to make a living.
The movie opens with Hope’s career at its peak: he has a beautiful wife and daughter, an expensive mansion and an assortment of hype men at his service.
However, after sustaining a serious eye injury in a fight, Hope’s wife Maureen urges him to quit fighting and retire as the World Light Heavyweight Champion.
Just when Maureen (Rachel McAdams) seems likely to convince Billy, she is shot and killed during a charity event where Hope’s uncontrollable anger leads him to start a brawl with a goading challenger named Miguel “Magic” Escobar.
After the loss of his wife, Hope descends into a rage-filled state that costs him his fortune, his friends and even custody of his daughter.
Each anger-driven mistake leaves the viewer exasperated and frustrated, wishing that Hope would just play by the rules and stop making his situation worse.
Eventually, Hope returns to the very “Projects” his fame helped him leave in a Rocky-esque turn of fate.
Indeed, Southpaw seems to be a condensed version of the Rocky series, with the predictable conclusion of Hope once more regaining his fame and exacting revenge for his wife’s murder, much in the way that Rocky revenges Apollo Creed.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives a marvelous performance of a character that appears to be quite shallow, but that is still able to draw the in viewer.
The ending of the movie is a moving fight scene wherein Gyllenhaal not only beats his challenger, Escobar, but also regains custody of his daughter Leila.
After seeing her dad fight, Leila forgives him for his mistakes and the movie ends on a predictable, but rather heart-wrenching note.
While the movie is titled Southpaw, the term used for a left-handed fighter, Hope is actually right-handed.
The significance of the title comes in the final fight where Hope knocks down his opponent with a unexpected left uppercut that is uncharacteristic of the boxer Hope once was, reminding the viewer of the ways in which Billy has been forced to change.
Earning a 6/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, Southpaw is an emotional story of the battle of a fighter to overcome the remnants of his traumatized childhood.
While working on a predictable story, Gyllenhaal’s acting serves to engage the viewer on a deep emotional level, comparable to movies like Rocky or 8 Mile.
The movie delves into the psychology of a fighter whose principal motivation is anger, while also examining the tender side of his emotional psyche in his relationship with his daughter.
Apart from the rather predictable plot, this movie is a compelling watch for this last reason alone.