Skeletally skinny in last year’s Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal is pumped up and fighting fit in Southpaw, a boxing melodrama from The Equalizer director Antoine Fuqua that pummels the viewer into submission with a one-two combo of brutal action inside the ring and relentless clichés everywhere else.
Gyllenhaal is reigning Light Heavyweight champ Billy Hope (a role originally conceived for Eminem), an orphan from New York’s Hell’s Kitchen who has scrapped his way to the top, with devoted wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), cute-as-a-button daughter Leila (Oona Lawrence) and an entourage of rowdy hangers on by his side. Then a shock incident leaves his life in ruins, transforming the movie into another timeworn drama of loss and redemption.
Southpaw isn’t a total flop. Submerging himself in the role of the punch-drunk, inarticulate, bullishly raging Billy, Gyllenhaal oozes blood, sweat and tears with Method-style conviction, while Forest Whitaker makes the most of a grindingly formulaic part, that of the ruefully wise mentor who turns the hero’s life around. As for the boxing action, it’s gruellingly brutal – as Whitaker’s grizzled coach observes, Billy’s defensive strategy is stopping punches with his face. And the hero’s climactic bout against his trash-talking rival (Miguel Gomez) is a real whopper.
Off the canvas, it’s a different, all too predictable story. Fuqua’s direction is so club-fisted and Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter’s script so hackneyed that we can see every dramatic punch coming a mile off.
Certificate 15. Runtime 124 mins. Director Antoine Fuqua.