Film Review: Southpaw

by Evan Brown

Rated MA15+. Starring  Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent. Directed by Antoine Fuqua.

“Believe in Hope”

It was only recently that I was sitting on my couch browsing through the underwhelming content of Australian Netflix and thinking to myself “You know what I haven’t seen lately? A good new boxing movie”.

No wait, sorry. That never happened.

It’s been a few years since we’ve had a boxing movie hit the big screen and with endless titles that have come out over the decades it’s pretty hard to revamp an overworked storyline of the underdog overcoming his/her challenges against all the odds. However, director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer, Shooter) with a star studded line up of actors attempt to do just that in Southpaw.

Disclaimer: As a half-Asian half-Scottish kid growing up in the suburbs of Sydney my experience of boxing is quite limited.  These experiences include – watching most Rocky movies and playing a fair bit of George Foreman KO Boxing for the Sega Master System.  I actually had to google the definition of “southpaw”.

The story of Southpaw is not your average boxing cliché.  From the start it already breaks the mould of our underdog story with the introduction of our main character Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) on top of the food chain as the Light Heavyweight Champion of the World. He is an aggressive and arrogant boxer dancing around the ring like he’s on top of the world.

Billy Hope is winning at life. He has a collection of sports cars and a ginormous McMansion that makes Packer’s recently sold property look like my studio apartment and he is surrounded by those who love him – his manager (50 Cent), his friends, his wife (McAdams) and his daughter.

However, in a turn of events we see our protagonist face a Job-esque-like tragedy.  Billy Hope’s life long best friend and wife who he met growing up in the projects are murdered by a rival boxing gang sending him off the rails. Consumed with grief Hope turns to drugs and alcohol which ruins his career and snowballs into losing his championship title, his boxing license, all his money, his manager, most of his friends and his daughter. As the Court Judge sends Hope’s daughter into social services, Hope is ordered to get his life back on track if he ever wants to get his daughter back.

On the road of redemption Hope joins an old-school boxing gym downtown that is owned by boxing trainer Tick Wills (Whitaker).  Wills coached the only boxer that Hope thought had the potential to beat him and thus Hope hopes that Wills can train him to be a better boxer, a better man, a better father and help him reclaim his world title – which is now held by the boxer associated with his wife’s death! I know right – what are the odds?

Southpaw’s story line is littered with hallmarks and clichés that are associated with this sort of “redemption style” genre and from the trailer I was expecting to be rolling my eyes very early in.  I love a good dish-out when it comes to lame movie, but unfortunately with Southpaw I can’t.  Fuqua has managed to rework an old and tired genre back to life and was able to entertain me (someone who cares very little about boxing) for the duration of the film. Since Donnie Darko, Jake Gyllenhaal has always been one of my favourite actors and in Southpaw he didn’t disappoint.  Having obviously done an extreme amount of work to acquire his professional boxer’s physique Gyllenhaal not just looks the part but also acts the part of a very believable boxer who is contrasted well with the depth of Whitaker’s character. Although her screen time was short, McAdams was also very convincing as the gutter rat from Hell’s Kitchen. There were some great moments in this movie and there was even the training montage that I was eagerly anticipating (no Eye of the Tiger though).

Although Southpaw is a “boxing” movie it has many moral themes running through it.  I expected the theme of revenge to be the main focus of this movie however Fuqua chose to focus on the themes of redemption and suffering – themes that are all too familiar to Jesus and the Cross.

It was Jesus who faced ultimate suffering – the wrath of God as punishment for our sins so that we can be redeemed and have a relationship with God.  In 1 Peter 3:18 it tells us that “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God” and in Ephesians 1:7 we are told “in Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”

There is a deep moment between Hope and Wills where they are trying to make sense of everything in their life and Wills insightfully states:

“God must have some plan to teach me but I can’t figure out what that is yet.”

As Christians we know that this lesson is Jesus and the sacrifice He made for all mankind.

Although this redemption style genre has been done to death Fuqua has been able to convey a very brutal and realistic perspective of professional boxing and the battle of one man’s redemptive journey. I highly recommend grabbing a friend who doesn’t know Jesus and seeing this movie together. I give Southpaw four out of five stars.

Southpaw releases in Australian cinemas this Thursday, 20th August. It is currently screening in the US and the UK.

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