When I saw the promos for Southpaw, I immediately thought Rocky, but not as good. In reality, I don’t think any boxing movie will ever be as good as the first Rocky movie (although almost anything could be better than the rest of the series). Rocky is just one of a kind (I’d put it in the top 20 of all movies). With Rocky you went thinking you were going to see a lot of rough, hard-hitting boxing (think Raging Bull), but you were instead given a great, emotional story that overrode all the fighting. In a way, the same is true of Southpaw where a really good story overpowers several very exceptional boxing sequences and makes for a very good movie.
The movie starts out slow. In fact if there weren’t a couple of things you needed to know to understand the rest of the movie, I suggest you come in ½ hour late. But then Forest Whitaker suddenly enters stage left and the whole feeling of the movie changes (for the better). I have to admit that Jake Gyllenhaal just doesn’t appeal to me. Oh, I think he is a good actor, but he’s like a kid in 5th grade who gave me the finger—from that point on, just the sight of him annoyed me. For me—especially after seeing his movie Nightcrawler—he just gives me this bad vibe. Now Forest is another case. You just can’t help but love him.
The boxing part of the movie is one story, but the fighter’s relationship with his daughter (torn asunder by the death of her mother [Rachel McAdams-The Notebook]) is the core of the movie and handled well. It couldn’t of worked if a) Gyllenhall were not a good actor and, b) Oona Laurence (12 years old) wasn’t just as good in her role. The director, Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), has done a good job of mixing the bloody, violent girt of the boxing world with the complex relationship of a father and his daughter. For that everyone involved is to be commended.
Some of you GEEZERS will remember the movie The Champ staring Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper. In many ways Southpaw and this movie give you the same emotional jolt. The Champ spares nothing to tug at your heart-strings (whatever they are) while Southpaw is a little more subdued in its approach.
If you enjoy boxing, the movie won’t disappoint. You never get the feeling the action is staged and you will flinch at some of the punches. There is a little too much blood—probably no more than many real fights—as the film sometimes gets carried away with showing you what a terrible beating the hero is taking. But blow for blow (with a bit of slow-motion), the boxing scenes work.
Southpaw was my reward for taking my wife to the movie Spy a few weeks ago. The fact that my wife labeled a “boxing movie” as “ok,” means it must have done a good job of mixing the compassion and brutality that permeated the entire movie.
The movie is predictable, but it is also well done and enjoyable—easily the best movie of a miserable summer season.