Southpaw – 3/5 – Movie Reviews by Ry!

southpawSouthpaw – 3/5 – Boxing films are the kinds of stories that can be amazing or come off as repetitive.  These kinds of films usually deal with ideals of character, triumph and redemption.  Most boxing tales include one or if not all of them.   Even when a film isn’t original, it doesn’t deter from the facts of making it a good or great film.  Southpaw is what you would consider a typical boxing film.  Even in its basic stature, it is one that stands on its own.  In the end, even with an abundant of clichés you’ve seen before, Southpaw will grip your heart and reveal what it means to be redeemed.

Premise: Boxer Billy Hope has it all (Wife, daughter and an undefeated record).  After one fateful night, his life begins to spiral out of control.  With everything to lose, he turns to trainer Tick Willis for help.  On this redemption road, Billy Hope must find what it means to be more than just a great boxer, but a great person to everyone around him, including his daughter.

In the lead role of Billy hope is Jake Gyllenhaal.  This actor has been a top tier actor ever since his acclaim role in Brokeback Mountain.  Since then, he has showed audiences what it means to be a top-notch actor.  This role is no exception.  He makes you believe in the boxer Billy Hope.  From the gritty and rage-filled personality to his unsophisticated but simple approach to covering up his flaws, you believe in what he wants to achieve, even if it doesn’t always come across as serene.  He is sincere, poignant, and most of all, leaves his heart on the sleeve.  This approach allows you to see the raw intensity of his emotions, both on and out of the boxing ring.  When his life spirals out of control, you watch the turmoil through his interactions, actions and dialogue delivery.  When the film turns and you see him in his road back from the darkness to his final confrontation, you see him at his best.   Gyllenhaal shows why he should be consider one of the best actors today.  With the rest of the cast, you have as followed:

Rachel McAdams – Maureen Hope (Wife)

Forest Whitaker – Tick Wills (Trainer)

50 Cent – Jordan Mains (manager)

Miguel Gomaz – Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar (antagonist/boxer)

As much as these actors/actresses do a great job in their roles, on the surface you realize they are nothing more than what is defined above.  The grit, line delivery and interactions with Billy Hope make you feel the realism of this particular human story, but it can’t hide the obvious fact that they are your typical boxing archetypes.  The balancing between these tropes and showing raw vigor comes in a clash of contrasting feelings, knowing you see something real but must call out the mimicking behavior to being just a plot device.  The rest of the cast falls further into the archetype hole, only acting as a buffer between scenes and boxing/action sequences.

The direction falls in line with everything that has been mentioned.  The story goes along the basic plot points of most (if not all) boxing films:

First act: Protagonist(s) and cast introduced; plot points of ‘current events’; web of convenient storytelling leads into ‘game changing’ events that effects protagonist.

Second act: Protagonist ‘fall from grace’; predictable ‘spiraling’ events; Raw revelations that lead to ‘epiphany moments’

Third act: Protagonist ‘redemption road’; faults/wounds healed; protagonist comes against ‘ultimate confrontation’ in the ring; fight against ‘themed’ elements through a ‘human antagonist’.

That is the movie in a nutshell.  From beginning to the end, the contrasting of the basic outline makes you see the simplistic foretelling of events.  Originality is put on the back burner as the clichés of common humanistic overtones are abundant and sometimes beaten to a pulp.  Everything is predictable, foreshadowing all the events that will happen in the second and third acts.  You don’t see any twists, changes or sudden veering off the linear path.  Even in these basic boxing tropes, you still see a glimmer of something deep.  This is found in two things:

Visuals eye of the director

The great acting of the leading role

The director finds a way to pull out the rawness of this human tale through visual appeal.  There is a mix of ‘stationary’ elements, powerful ‘social/personal’ imagery and ‘lighting’ techniques that pull out the emotions of the important ‘character’ parts of the film.  No matter if it’s Billy Hope spiraling down the rabbit hole or his fight back to redeem his career; you feel it through the use of strong visual quips.  Adding to this is the vision of the director is the powerful presence of Gyllenhaal’s acting.  This adds to the human element; causing a gripping sensation for the hardy character.  You get to see a strong thematic appeal of characterization (and growth) of Billy Hope.  With these two elements, you go along for the ride, feeling the ‘heart on the sleeve’ mantra that show that these human elements are as real as everyday life.  Once the film moves through the three acts and hits the climax, you fall into the passion of the final fight, just as much as Billy Hope.  Once you come to the epilogue, the ‘full circle’ might seem mundane at first, but it shows you that even for the basic wrap up, it still has worth as a humanistic kind of ending.

Outside of the visual elements used in the directing (mentioned above); the visual aspect of the whole film is built upon that theme of pulling on the ‘rawness’ of the story.  Through the grainy spectrum to the lightning; you feel the scenes.  When it comes to the boxing parts of the film, you are ‘grounded’ with the realism of what boxing is.  From the close-ups; visual scars and emotional prowess, you get to see some of the best boxing scenes on the big screen (for a film). The score helps add tension, but it isn’t something to say noteworthy.

Southpaw may be something you’ve seen before, but because of the powerful lead acting and the visual style in the directing; there is enough here to keep you entertained.  If you’re a fan of boxing films or Gyllenhaal; this is one for you. This is a good film in the boxing genre, and one that is worth the price of a matinee.

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