Southpaw is the anti-Rocky; it is as if director Antonie Fuqua and writer Kurt Sutter (the now deceased, biker-gang soap opera “Sons of Anarchy”) decided to remake Rocky III with a murderous Clubber Lang. Light-heavyweight champion Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) has everything: a beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams), a loving daughter (Oona Laurence), a huge house, an entourage. What more could a former orphan from Hell’s Kitchen want? (The movie makes very sure the audience remembers how Billy and his wife, Maureen, grew up.)
Then, Maureen is accidentally killed in an altercation with challenger Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez, “The Strain”) and his crew. Soon, Billy has lost it all, until magic trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) teaches him how really to box.
The first half is dreadfully bleak (we’re talking Out of the Furnace level grim here). The second half, demarcated by the appearance of Whitaker, feels like an entirely different, much more enjoyable movie. Raging Bore suddenly becomes The Champ.
You know the flawlessness you are going to get from Gyllenhaal and Whitaker. Fuqua is frustratingly hit-or-miss, but Sutter knows this male-odramatic territory well. His scripted map takes the hard way to reach its destination, which makes getting there feel like even more of an accomplishment.
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