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Not every movie exists because it has a story to tell. Movies are made to show off special effects, to hammer home a point, or – in the case of Southpaw, a movie where the only surprise is how surprise-free it is – to win acting awards. Billy “Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the [middleweight champion of the world]. He fought his way up out of a Hell’s Kitchen orphanage to a New York mansion, with his childhood sweetheart (and fellow orphan) Maureen (Rachael McAdams) by his side.
He might not be good with words and his style of boxing – basically, he lets the other guy pound on him until he gets angry enough to take him out – might not be good for his long-term health, but he’s got money, friends, and an adoring daughter: life looks pretty sweet for him. And then he loses it all in rapid succession, so much so that barely half an hour into the film the one-time champ is now broke, banned from fighting and living alone in a dingy flophouse. Is he going to fight his way back? Is he going to take back everything he’s had taken from him? Is local gym owner and straight-arrow trainer Tick Wills (Forrest Whitaker) going to teach him how to fight like a man, not a monster – and by doing so show him how to live like a man too?
You might expect there to be a twist or two along the way, so well-worn is this path, but this film isn’t about surprises. Instead what’s meant to keep you in your seat is Gyllenhaal: wiry, ab-tastic and playing a mumbling palooka with a burning temper, his performance has “award-winning” stamped all over it, even if the end impression isn’t quite powerful enough to make it actually feel like something worth throwing prizes at. He’s solidly made in a solidly made film, but if you’ve seen the poster – or any image from the film at all – you know exactly what’s in store.
Reviewed by Anthony Morris