Monday, July 27, 2015

Southpaw (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Yet again, it is time to put on your underdog gloves in Southpaw, a film that has slick sparing power due to a solid performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, but the heavily melodramatic storyline makes the film a sopping wet towel of tears.

Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, a street smart light heavyweight champion who commands with brute force, rather than smooth skill.

He has just been crowned undefeated and is seemingly on top.

As Billy is getting punchy, battered, and most likely bleeding internally, his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) wants him to quit while he has a head.

But Billy is addicted to the sport.

When speaking at a children's charity, Billy is offensively insulted by a boxing rival, Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) with crass remarks aimed at his wife. Maureen urges Billy to let it go, but Billy's anger gets the better of him and a fistfight ensues.

A gun fires and Maureen is hit by the bullet.

The champ's world drops from underneath him and he hits bottom.

Events go from very bad to even worse.

The most riveting aspect of the film is Gyllenhaal's wiry, monstrous, yet sensitive  transformation as he channels the rapper Eminem, who was originally intended for this part. Shaky, drunk and with nowhere to go, Billy Hope becomes a walker of the night, cloaked in Eminem's black hoodie. The public heaps scorn upon him, but this dark knight is driven, haunting a gym the way a rapper does a club.

All he needs, of course, is one more chance.

Forest Whittaker does well as the gravel voiced and tough talking trainer that expectedly talks about the mental sport rather than muscle. And he has forceful dialogue that paints Billy into a corner, making him take personal responsibility for his actions.

Oona Lawrence is the boxer's cutely precocious daughter, who counts his fight wounds and never really gives up on him.

The film does have juice but the voltage it has quickly ebbs, given that the blood and heavy drama spins dangerously close to the unreal. Right from the get go, Hope agrees to fight, even though he spits endless spouts of blood and looks like mashed potatoes. Clearly, Hope is in no position to fight.

The turn of events spirals downward so quickly that any sports journalist might well feel light headed.

The boxing sequences, although authentic, follow the same rise and fall rhythm as a "Rocky" story.

When Billy's daughter watches from the dressing room hysterical and sobbing, while her bruiser dad is a gory mess, you are exhausted. But there is also a sense of deja doom. This is the same Rope-a-dope as before with all of the iconic feinting from "Rocky" and "The Champ" to "The Fighter".

Although any cinematic fight fan will no doubt feel had, the story does produce some  watery eyes in spite of itself.

After ten rounds and so many obvious cliches however, "Southpaw" begs for a more outside of the box treatment to accompany its routinely entertaining lefty stance.

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