‘Southpaw’ struggles to stay on its feet

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‘Southpaw’ struggles to stay on its feet

By Valkyrie Speaker / For The Pitt News

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Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker

Directed By: Antoine Fuqua

Grade: C+

“Southpaw” is down for the count, and its chance of future success looks poor.

The story of “Southpaw,” at its core, is one we have all seen before — a fall, a climb and a happy ending, but when it comes to boxing, it’s been done better. Movies like “Raging Bull” and “Rocky” set the standard high for boxing films, and “Southpaw” hits below the belt. It is not as respectable or artistic as its predecessors, and leaves much to be desired.

In his latest work, Pittsburgh native director Antoine Fuqua incorporates the signature grit that formed his earlier films, like “Olympus Has Fallen” and “The Equalizer.” Fuqua also cranks up the drama in “Southpaw,” which is the rather cliché story of pro boxer “The Great” Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his fall from light-heavyweight grace.

Fuqua returned home to shoot “Southpaw,” utilizing and slightly altering the city to achieve his perfect cinematic vision — the exterior of the Saks Fifth Avenue department store got a makeover to resemble Madison Square Garden, and the film crew added graffiti to businesses on Brownsville Road in Carrick to make the space seem more like New York City.

To Billy Hope,his wife Maureen “Mo” (Rachel McAdams) and daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) mean everything. Billy seemingly loses everything after Mo tragically dies, prompting Billy to abandon his World Champ title and settle into depression.

Next, an attempted suicide lands him in court, and Leila goes into foster care until he can prove himself fit to be a parent. Billy resolves to turn things around and begins work for Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker), a boxing instructor, and eventually resumes training with Tick to take back his World Champion title.

Though the concept is strong, the film is somewhat touch-and-go — besides Billy Hope and his family, the characters are flat and predictable.

One example is Hoppy (Skylan Brooks), a young man training at Tick’s gym, who dies suddenly from domestic abuse.The audience cannot mourn him to the same degree as Billy and Tick — we see Hoppy only a few brief times. Chalk this up to the film’s fast pace, which hinders its ability to explore and develop character backgrounds and motivation all in its  two-hour run time.

Most of the movie’s weight, however, rests on capable shoulders.

Gyllenhaal’s ability to completely transform himself for his roles made his performance awe-inspiring. Having first lost substantial weight for his slender fox-like role in “Nightcrawler”, Gyllenhaal worked tirelessly for six months to obtain his “Southpaw” boxer’s physique — an impressive turnaround.

Though very cut-and-paste, “Southpaw” is worthy of some praise. I teared up when the court forced Leila from her father, and I was half-standing when Billy delivered that final uppercut.

It may be on the ropes in terms of story and development, but “Southpaw” is enjoyably tough and puts up a heck of a fight.

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