For reasons completely unknown to myself, I actually rather enjoy films about boxing. This is surprising, as I hate the actual sport. It’s all a bit too thuggish for my liking. I liked The Fighter though, and I loved Cinderella Man. Rocky’s still on my to-watch list, but I’ve never had any doubt that I’d enjoy it. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Southpaw because it looked a lot bleaker and grittier than the other boxing films I’ve seen, but I thought it’d be a great excuse to watch a training montage or two, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good training montage.
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by Southpaw – well, surprised at how much I enjoyed it considering it was pretty depressing, and unexpectedly emotional considering it’s a film about people beating the shit out of each other. I’ll admit I had a little cry on more than one occasion (when I wasn’t driven to distraction by Jake Gyllenhaal’s glorious forearms).
The film is about Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), a boxer close to retirement whose wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) is killed in a brawl when Billy gives in to antagonism from a younger boxer and starts throwing punches instead of walking away. Billy struggles to cope after Maureen’s death. He relies on drink and drugs, is suspended from boxing, becomes suicidal, and loses custody of his daughter. He eventually takes a job working as a cleaner at a boxing gym run by Tick (Forest Whittaker). Working with Tick and the young boys at the gym helps Billy to overcome some of his anger issues, and he persuades Tick to train him for a final showdown against the young boxer he brawled with, hoping that a win will reconcile him with his daughter.
Okay, so there’s nothing exactly ground-breaking here. There’s not really anything we haven’t seen before, and I knew all along that Billy would win in the final fight – otherwise, what’s the point? The rest of the film was pretty depressing, and without that lift I don’t think anyone would enjoy watching two hours of despair. I did quite like it though, despite knowing how it was going to go. The trailer left very little to the imagination, and made it clear that Maureen died from the get-go. In that way it was pretty predictable and I know my sister was a bit bored watching it, but I did like watching the redemption of Billy’s character. Plus I just enjoyed watching Jake Gyllenhaal in general, because he really was very good in it. Rachel McAdams was also great, but I haven’t seen many Jake Gyllenhaal films before and I wasn’t expecting to be as drawn in by him as I was. And those forearms! Hot damn.
I don’t think this is the kind of film you could describe as heart-warming as such. I liked that everything turned out (mostly) okay, but it certainly didn’t give me the warm fuzzies. It was frustrating to see a character screwing everything up so royally, but at the same time I appreciated it because that’s what people do. I suppose that made it feel a bit more believable than other films of this genre, but it’s not really the kind of film you’d watch for a bit of light relief.
See previous Film Review featuring Into the Woods.