When asked by the high court judge exactly what makes him a suitable candidate to look after his own child, Billy Hope replies, “I’m her father!”
“I’m afraid that’s not enough,” responds the judge.
Jake Gyllenhall is predictably excellent in Antoine Fuqua’s at times hard-hitting and often explosive boxing tale, yet somehow that in itself is not enough to elevate Southpaw much above the simply ‘OK’ category.
You just can’t help feeling that you’ve seen this film before and as traumatic and harrowing as the subject matter can be at times, you’ll sooner find yourself ticking off the succession of predictable plot manoeuvres, one by one, as the film progresses, than being wrong-footed by any subtle plot twists.
The word ‘formulaic’ is not out of place here.
Word champion boxer, Billy Hope has it all, but in the wake of a tragic event, loses everything and now he must rebuild his shattered existence.
There’s much soul searching, a lot of coming to terms with life’s cruel twists of fate and ultimately there’s a crack at redemption.
We’ve already mentioned Gyllenhall, but credit where it’s due, it’s not a one man show and there are strong performances from Rachel McAdams, (Mo, the sexy, sassy and supportive rock on which Billy’s world is built) and Forest Whitaker, who is excellent as Billy’s gruff, no-nonsense trainer, Tick Willis. A special mention too for little Oona Laurence who puts in a sweet, yet feisty turn as the apple of Billy’s eye; his daughter Leila.
Formulaic it may well be, but that shouldn’t discount some genuinely powerful and truly surging emotional scenes throughout, enhanced by a pounding soundtrack; the kind of set pieces that carry Southpaw through on a wave of pumping adrenalin, doing a good job of masking the film’s limitations.
This is no Raging Bull, nor is it the new Rocky, but that’s not to dismiss it out of hand.
Perhaps it’s just a victim of the epic, pioneering boxing tales that have preceded it, but Southpaw, whilst it comes out, punching hard, ultimately offers us nothing new and in a well-trodden genre such as this, ‘something new’ I feel, should be any director’s first and foremost concern.