From acclaimed director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and screenwriters Kurt Sutter (“Sons of Anarchy”) and Richard Wenk (The Mechanic), Southpaw tells the riveting story of Billy "The Great" Hope, reigning Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World (Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal). Billy Hope seemingly has it all with an impressive career, a beautiful and loving wife (Rachel McAdams), an adorable daughter (Oona Laurence) and a lavish lifestyle. When tragedy strikes and his lifelong manager and friend (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) leaves him behind, Hope hits rock bottom and turns to an unlikely savior at a run-down local gym: Tick Willis (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker), a retired fighter and trainer to the city's toughest amateur boxers. With his future riding on Tick's guidance and tenacity, Billy enters the hardest battle of his life as he struggles with redemption and to win back the trust of those he loves.
"Don't get hit too much."
Everyone loves to root for the underdog. Something about the guy or gal who isn't expected to rise up and meet an insurmountable challenge just grabs at the heart strings and gives a gentle little tug. While the underdog story is a great one and has proven to be timeless, another favorite is the comeback story, the story about someone who was at the peak of their profession who falls hard, and turns their situation around and triumphs once again can be just as endearing to an audience. Boxing movies in particular love to exploit either of the two story setups and there are numerous examples of how well that particular sport fits so snugly into either of those molds. 'Southpaw' directed by Antoine Fuqua, written by Kurt Sutter, and starring a ferocious Jake Gyllenhaal is a comeback story that is at all times gripping, heart-wrenching, and yet and an all too familiar story.
Light-Heavyweight Champion Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) doesn't know what failure looks like. He was a child of the system raised by the state and foster parents and has risen through tough times to be the most successful boxer in his class. He fights hard, he fights tough, and unfortunately for any opponent that steps into the ring with him, he fights bloody and angry. When the fight is over and the job is done, at his side is childhood sweetheart Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and his young daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). In addition to his crew of guys he grew up with, Billy has Jordan Mains (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) as a manager to help guide him and offer their support.
As Billy is getting older, each fight is steadily getting harder and harder for him to win, even though he refuses to admit that fact. Maureen is the planner in the family so she believes deep down that it's time for Billy to step out of the ring for good and hang up the gloves. Jordan, on the other hand, thinks now is the right time to sign a contract with HBO for three more fights worth at least $10,000,000. Waiting in the wings to take on the champ is up and coming Columbian boxer Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) who is ready and willing to do anything to provoke a fight with Billy. When Escobar insults Maureen at a charity event honoring Billy, the rage inside Billy can't be contained. After starting a fight with Escobar, Maureen is shot and killed leaving an inexperienced Billy to handle his financial affairs as well as raise his young daughter.
When his finances collapse and the state takes custody of Leila, Billy has no other choice but to get his life back on track. The only thing Billy knows is boxing and with no one else to turn to, Billy gets a job working for the trainer of one of his last opponents Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker). Tick doesn't train pro fighters, instead he helps kids get off the streets and watches out for them. In the fully grown Billy, Tick sees a child in a man's body and reluctantly gives him a job and agrees to train him, so long as Billy follows the rules. For the first time in his life, Billy is owning up to real responsibilities which turns out to be the best preparation for the fight of his life.
'Southpaw' is an intense, dramatically satisfying, extremely well-acted film with a cast giving some fantastic performances. The story grabs you from minute one and doesn't let go. You hurt every time Billy gets socked in the face, and you shed a tear or two when he loses the love of his life. You root for the man when it's time to take responsibility, grow up, and raise his daughter right. Director Antoine Fuqua has pulled together one hell of a visceral and visually arresting boxing drama. So what's the problem with that?
The problem with 'Southpaw' is that it will inevitably draw so many comparisons to other great boxing dramas of the past. While Kurt Sutter has managed to craft a great sports epic within a heartfelt family drama, 'Southpaw' is a very predictable and routine affair. While I wouldn't normally knock a good movie for sticking to a set mold, the problem for this film is that it is at its essence 'Rocky III, IV, and V' all rolled into one film. I am sad to say that isn't an exaggeration either. It didn't take me very long to start noticing the comparisons to those three films and even then I couldn't get 'Raging Bull' out of my mind either.
Thankfully the notable lack of originality in the story doesn't outweigh the value of the performances within 'Southpaw.' Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a fierce and magnetic performance as Billy Hope. More than a "got in great shape" performance, Gyllenhaal not only changed his physical presence but managed to bring a real character to light. Billy Hope isn't the smartest person ever, but he's been around the block a few times and knows the score and Gyllenhaal owns the role in every scene. As a calming but no less fantastic performance is Forest Whitaker as Tick. Whitaker could very easily be written off as a "Mickey" ripoff and that would be a worthy comparison, however, Whitaker gives the role so much heart and presence that you soon forget those comparisons. Naomie Harris also delivers a fine performance as Angela Rivera, the social worker assigned to Billy's case. She does what she can with the role, but she doesn't get a lot of mileage out of it. I would have loved to see more of Miguel Gomez's Miguel Escobar if only we could develop some real reason to hate the guy as the film's villain beyond his trash talking antics in the beginning.
Taken as a whole, 'Southpaw' is a good film. It's a movie that grabbed my attention and didn't let go. It's one of Fuqua's better directorial efforts and Kurt Sutter proves he's a capable and interesting writer beyond the episodic television format. The only thing holding this movie back from greatness is the very real fact that this is a movie audiences have seen many times before. 'Southpaw' does what it does very well, but not well enough to outshine other great works within the genre. It's absolutely worth a watch and stands as a film I will revisit again, but I don't think it'll be one that I'll turn to first when I need a boxing drama fix. It's also worth mentioning that this film features one of the last completed works from composer James Horner. It's a beautiful score and captures the essence of every scene. Scorehounds should see the movie for the music alone.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Southpaw' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Anchor Bay and is pressed on a Region A locked BD50 disc. Along with a DVD and HD Ultraviolet voucher, the Blu-ray comes housed in a standard case with identical slipcover. The disc opens to a trailer for 'No Escape,' 'Big Eyes,' 'The Intimidation Game' before arriving at the main menu.
Shot digitally, 'Southpaw' is given a beautifully visceral 2.40:1 1080p transfer. Details are in your face throughout the entire run of the film. As fists fly and beads of sweat develop on foreheads as well as the finer facial features like Gyllenhaal's abundant beard stubble, everything you could want to see, or not want to see depending on how well you can stomach open cuts and nasty looking bruises is on full display. Colors are also stable while providing for plenty of primary pop. All you have to do is look at the crimson blood or the bright blue mat in the boxing ring to appreciate the pop. To that end, flesh tones look accurately healthy. Black levels are all around very strong and offer a nice three-dimensional presence to the picture. Where this transfer is a tad underwhelming is during some of the darker midpoint scenes, in particular, scenes that take place in Tick's gym. These scenes feel a bit flatter and don't quite feature the same inky blacks the rest of the film enjoys. But in the end that is only a small issue when you compare it to the picture quality on display throughout the rest of the film.
One of the best features of 'Southpaw' is the film's sound design work and this DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix delivers the goods. Every punch gets that extra auditory kick that it should. The crowd noises of the ring envelop the surrounds making you feel like you're right there in the thick of the action. When the film calms down and things take a more somber note, the audio mix maintains its prominence by keeping all of the dialogue crystal clear and filling the scenes with enough ambient effects to keep the surround channels engaged virtually at all times. Then you have the amazing score from the late James Horner and this mix puts the heartstring-pulling notes on display for you to enjoy. The mix is well balanced and keeps to the midranges. The track only dips into lower registers in time for those hard punches hit their targets and the event is wonderful. Imaging is spot on as there is a noticeable and enjoyable level of channel movement, even during the film's quieter moments. All around, this is a flawless track that really makes the movie
Deleted Scenes: (HD 20:46) Comprised of 8 separate scenes that can be viewed individually or all in a single shot. Most of the scenes here are more like scene extensions rather than deleted altogether. The only really notable scene is the third one, 'Billy's Fall' that shows his descent into drug abuse and the police's failure to apprehend the murderer of his wife. All around these are some great moments that would have been nice to see in the main feature, but it's understandable why they were cut.
Southpaw - Inside the Ring: (HD 21:30) Better than your average EPK extra feature, it offers plenty of cast and crew interviews discussing the film and a lot of the film's technical aspects.
Q&A With The Cast: (HD 18:56) This is pretty standard Q&A material but the cast offers up some nice tidbits and it's nice to hear their thoughts of the film and their characters and what it was like working together.
Extended Training Montage: (HD 4:03) This is a quick little bit of fun as we watch Jake Gyllenhaal train to get into shape for the film with Antoine Fuqua going through the motions as well while some Eminem tunes to set the mood.
'Southpaw' is one of those very good movies that simply just doesn't offer up enough new material to its respective genre. It's a very good film featuring a great cast at the top of their game, but it feels like we've seen this film many times before. Anchor Bay brings the film to Bly-ray in fine form offering a stellar A/V presentation that highlights the rough and tough visuals of professional boxing with a thundering audio track to match. Alongside some solid extra features, 'Southpaw' is a Blu-ray disc that is pretty easy to recommend. If you keep your expectations in check, you should have no trouble enjoying 'Southpaw.'