Rated: R for language throughout, and some violence. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: July 21, 2015 Released by: The Weinstein Company
The hard-working maturing star Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners, Nightcrawler - we'll overlook Bubble Boy when there's Brokeback Mountain and October Sky) gets to bulge his abs and pecs for action director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer) and avid distaff onlookers in a coercive, if clichéd representation of preeminent boxer Billy Hope. Rachel McAdams and Forest Whitaker are the key secondary players in what is a violent and heart-stopping if blandly titled Southpaw. One that unfortunately doesn't have quite the emotional payoff from the kind of suffering his laconic Billy nicknamed "The Great" endures.
The physical transformation of the versatile Gyllenhaal will be on the viewer's mind even before a horrible incident puts him a personal squalor where composure and pride have gone out the window. There's the tragedy of his enlightening and adored wife (McAdams of Aloha, in a small but important role) and losing his rebellious daughter (Oona Laurence) to state child protection services after being deemed an inadequate parent.
In the screenplay co-written by Kurt Sutter (creator of the viscerally vibrant Sons of Anarchy) a shamed man of aggression and obstinacy undergoes a repentance of sorts to get back his flesh and blood, a risky endeavor indeed. A similarly damaged gym proprietor who trains amateur pugilists is a solid role for Whitaker (Lee Daniels' The Butler) to help a deeply crestfallen Billy reach the "main event". The material may not match the intensity Fuqua and his stars (like Curtis 50 Cent Jackson and Naomie Harris) bring to Southpaw which includes some fitly furnished fight scenes, but a staunch Gyllenhaal in particular still emerges surprising well from the shellacking dealt to Hope on the big screen, not just in the brutal squared circle.