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Gyllenhaal knocks out cliches in 'Southpaw'
What's in with Justin
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as an underdog boxer in "Southpaw." - photo by Studio photo

Like its underdog hero, “Southpaw” has so much about it that we want to root for it so much, but it’s still content on following a cliché-driven script to the umpteenth degree.

Nevertheless, thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal’s incredible performance, this movie does give us hope.

Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, a young boxer contemplating retirement at the behest of his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams). At a ceremony to announce his decision, he’s taunted by a challenger, and Maureen is accidentally shot and later succumbs to her wounds.

After going down a self-destructive path, Billy loses custody of his daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence), who is taken into child services. He then works in a gym owned by a boxer, Tick (Forest Whitaker). Billy wants Tick’s help in training him to fight again and prove he can be who he once was.

The movie takes its toll both physically and emotionally at times. The boxing scenes are very intense and bloody, while some of the scenes involving Gyllenhaal and his daughter are often touching and heartbreaking simultaneously. Another good title for this film could’ve been “The Passion of the Gyllenhaal.”

“Southpaw” was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who also made “Training Day” and “The Equalizer.” He stages the boxing scenes with a high degree of ferocity just enough on the edge of becoming a blood sport. I just wish he was able to translate the rest of the material into something more exciting and less dominated by clichés. Here’s a summary of some of the clichés this movie undergoes: Championship Win, Retirement, Downward Spiral, Resurrection of a Champ, and Redemption.

Having said that, I’m surprised that I’m recommending this movie on the basis of Gyllenhaal’s performance. Last year, he was equally brilliant and disturbing in the hypnotic, criminally underrated “Nightcrawler.” Here, he injects enough believability and inspiration to elevate the material beyond the clichés, and we root for him every step of the way.

Even though I felt the story wasn’t as involving as it should be, Gyllenhaal is the movie’s only saving grace — and for that alone, this film is a knockout.
Grade: B

(Rated R for language throughout and some violence.)

Hall is a syndicated columnist in South Georgia.

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