Southpaw (2015)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on July 29, 2015 @

Southpaw is MMA.

Mixed Movie Arts, with the emphasis on mixed.

It goes from the highs of Eminem's music to the lows of Jim Lampley's and Roy Jones's boxing analysis.

Southpaw breaks into two parts - the first is just this side of trite. The second has compelling humanity.

The humanity seems to arrive with Forest Whitaker's appearance as a gym owner and trainer. Whitaker invests the film with welcome authentic feeling.

Even the direction by Antoine Fuqua and the writing by Kurt Sutter seem to undergo a transformation and elevation.

In the first half, Fuqua is the king of the wobbly camera, and he relies on trite music - strings and piano - which has a melodramatic effect. The writing is connect-the-dots.

But one thing Fuqua has going for him is he doesn't drag out his protagonist's fall. It's fairly credible.

The film begins with Billy Hope in a brutal fight at Madison Square Garden. He is a Beast, but he depends on Beauty - his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) sitting nearby. She is his spirit and support.

They have a daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) and live a happy life in their mansion. But it all falls apart.

Billy loses everything. Even Leila is taken away by Children's Services. He is lost. He has to fight his own inner demons in the face of devastating circumstances. And so he does.

The cast is effective. Jake Gyllenhaal rolls with the punches as the screenplay bobs and weaves.

Yes, ladies, Rachel McAdams of TV's True Detective has washed her hair.

Oona Laurence does well as the daughter.

And Whitaker gives a special performance.

Sutter's script is uneven but has some symbolic depth - the symbol of one damaged eye is revealing.

Eminem may make the best music contribution to a boxing movie since Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night" in John Huston's Fat City (1972). But when he does his knockout rap "Phenomenal" during the credits, the audience has left.

The final bout is suspenseful, because it's in doubt, and by then we care.

Like the proverbial fighter, Southpaw goes the distance.

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