Billy Hope is a pro-boxer who brings in victorious wins during his fights, mostly due to his unwillingness to provide defense, the beatings he takes fuels his anger and brings him to win, along with the support of seeing his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) in the crowd. After a tragedy that causes the death of his wife, Billy lets his life fall through the cracks and in the end loses custody of his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Billy feels like he has nothing, until he meets trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) who helps bring him to his feet and shows him what it really means to be a fighter.
This boxing drama sets itself apart from other boxing films, in that boxing is only the backdrop of the story. For a majority of the film we watch Billy’s suffering as well as his daughter’s (mostly due to her father’s suffering). There are times when the film does feel dragged on, but it works in its benefit by really getting us down to the characters’ levels and feeling the same raw emotions they are. And it works. As the characters build themselves up, you are just rooting for them to find themselves back to a happy and healthy life. The script gives us strong focus on the characters at hand, even the character from Rachel McAdams, it’s a punch in the gut (like most of the film) when her character dies. By giving us strong focus on our leading male, his trainer, and daughter we actually get to know them and feel for them. Unlike most boxing films that are all about the victory, this one chooses to focus on a boxer who actually has something to fight for and the trainer who helps him realize this. Jake Gyllenhaal like always brings in an extremely powerful performance in which he becomes his character and stays in character through and through. You feel and see the pain that Gyllenhaal emits from his performance, it’s definitely one of the most raw and heart-wrenching performances I’ve seen in a while. In what little screen time she has Rachel McAdams provides one of the better performances she’s given in a while (due to her stream of romantic films), as stated above she brings a strong female character and likability to her that it hurts you when she’s gone. Oona Laurence is the newcomer of the film and also provides a powerful and emotional performance as Billy’s young daughter who is feeling just as, if not more loss, than her father. For such a young actor Laurence really understands her character and what she’s supposed to show. Forest Whitaker also provides and a strong performance as the man who is unwilling to give up on Billy while also dealing with his own demons, Whitaker and Gyllenhaal have great scenes together and you really become invested in the bond they develop.
Southpaw is boxing film that’s not entirely about boxing. So that may or may not turn boxing fans off. But it’s more than just a boxing film, it shows the grit and emotions involved with that world and the struggles they go through. It is also powerful thematically in showing what things in life are worth fighting for and being able to get on your feet after tragedy hits. Featuring strong performances and powerful script, Southpaw is one of, if not the better boxing film I’ve seen in a long time.