Southpaw


Antoine Fuqua is a reliable, if not artful, film director. He smartly chooses material with a strong, centering presence -- Denzel Washington in Training Day and The Equalizer, for example. In his latest film, Southpaw, Fuqua directs Jake Gyllenhaal, who is both reliable and artful, in the starring role of New York boxing champion Billy Hope, who knows how to take a licking and keep on ticking, if a bit more slowly of late. Gyllenhaal, famously immersive in his preparation for roles, is ripped and rocking as Hope, whose wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), wants him to step away from the ring so that there will be something left for her and their daughter, Leila (child actress Oona Laurence). After Maureen is shot in an incident that's far too street for this picture, IMO, Billy descends into drug addiction and self-destruction. His manager (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) dumps him for a bankable pugilist, his daughter is taken away by child protective services, he's tossed out of his mansion, his automobiles are repossessed and the poor orphan from Hell's Kitchen is out on the street. A judge orders him to clean up or risk the permanent loss of his child, and Billy goes to a boxing gym run by Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), the personification of all that Hope (no heavy symbolism there, huh?) lacks in his life -- discipline, focus, integrity. Wills takes Hope on, helps him learn how to defend himself in the ring (and out) and dispenses valuable wisdom. All of this, of course, leads to a Las Vegas showdown between Hope and his nemesis Magic Escobar (Miguel Gomez). A predictable tale, no question, but Fuqua is such a masterful storyteller -- and Gyllenhaal and Whitaker are so good -- that you won't mind you've seen this a hundred times before. Recommended.

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