Part of what makes the “Rocky” franchise so successful is its highly motivational plot.

The story of how Sylvester Stallone, who was a struggling actor back then, fought to get the movie made has truly inspired a lot of people in the world. He went on to have a successful acting career in his life after the film won 3 Academy Awards for “Best Picture”, “Best Directing”, and “Best Film Editing”. The success of the film has unsurprisingly lured Hollywood into making more boxing movies centering on the struggles of a professional boxer.

From Robert De Niro to Denzel Washington to Russell Crowe, a number of Hollywood A-listers have undergone shocking physical transformations to play pro-boxers on screen. Multi award-winning actor Jake Gyllenhaal is the latest actor to join the ranks as he is playing a championship boxer known as Billy “The Great” Hope in Antoine Fuqua’s latest boxing drama, “Southpaw”.

JAKE GYLLENHAAL stars in SOUTHPAW. Photo: Scott Garfield © 2014 The Weinstein Company.  All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Scott Garfield / © 2014 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved.

The boxing drama is about a championship boxer, who seems to have it all with an impressive career, a beautiful and loving wife, an adorable daughter, and a lavish lifestyle. However, he later finds himself hitting rock bottom when a personal tragedy strikes. His lifelong manager and friend leaves him behind and his daughter is taken into care by social workers as his life is getting turned upside down. To rise up against all odds and win back the trust of the people that he loves, he turns to an unlikely savior at a run-down local gym and enters the hardest battle of his life.

It’s impossible to watch “Southpaw” without talking about Eminem, whose turbulent life inspired the events in the movie. Eminem has never worn a boxing glove in all his years, but his struggles were the apt metaphor to Billy’s struggles in the competitive boxing world. This film is, in a way, a sequel to “8 Mile”, the 2002 rap biopic film which starred the superstar rapper himself.

As a result, it can get a little too melodramatic for boxing movies fans.

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The Billy Hope-Kalil Turay fight at Madison Sq. Garden, where a despondent Billy spirals out of control. Rayco Saunders (Kalil Turay), JG
The Billy Hope-Kalil Turay fight at Madison Sq. Garden, where a despondent Billy spirals out of control. Rayco Saunders (Kalil Turay), JG

If we ignore how “Southpaw” was inspired by Eminem’s life, any boxing movie fan would have thought that this movie wasn’t as intense as they thought it would be. It’s not a testosterone-soaked tale about the rise of a struggling boxer and it’s definitely not a rise-and-fall story that is filled with blood and guts. The movie ended up being nothing more than a story about the struggles of a family man. A lot of blood and sweat were shed for Gyllenhaal to portray the role, but his talent and strength were unfortunately underutilised by the director.

That’s not to say that “Southpaw” sucks because Gyllenhaal once again became the saving grace of the film. The actor hasn’t stopped trying to impress us through his groundbreaking film roles. Last year, he earned high praises from critics and fans for his dedication to lose more than 20 pounds for his psychotic role as freelance crime reporter Lou Bloom in “Nightcrawler“. A few months later, he bulked up himself just so he can impress us again through his role as Billy Hope in this boxing drama. 

Though every moment he spent with his daughter Leila (played by Oona Laurence) turns melodramatic, the movie may at least be awarded due to his outstanding performance and his strong dedication for a film role.

Billy physically objects when it is decreed that Leila be put in the custory of the family court.  OL, JG, sometimes Charles Hoyes (Sutart Korman)
Billy physically objects when it is decreed that Leila be put in the custory of the family court. OL, JG, sometimes Charles Hoyes (Sutart Korman)

Gyllenhaal is not the only one who saved the movie from falling into a downward spiral either.

When Billy returns to the streets where he grew up, we were introduced to Titus “Tick” Willis, a character played by Forest Whitaker. Tick, who is Billy’s former mentor, owns a rundown boxing gym that forbids his students from drinking and swearing. He prioritises strategies, discipline, and calmness rather than to just physically train his students. He is reluctant to train Billy, but agrees to help him so that he can stand up again. Through his part, Whitaker definitely took things down a notch by wisely avoiding boxing-movie clichés.

Speaking of boxing-movie clichés, this film surprisingly succeeded at establishing its essence through its editing and cinematography. The training montages were decent and well-choreographed when paired with the suitably gloomy treatment. During the boxing sequences, the camerawork’s focus on the character’s movement was pretty satisfying as we are able to observe how they move sharply to attack or defend.

If only the film could focus on getting all of us hooked on these boxing sequences, we wouldn’t be so disappointed as we’ve already set our expectations too high.

In the Madison Square Garden dressing room, BIlly prepares for his fight against Darius Jones, Maureen inspires and soothes her husband the boxer.  JG, RM
In the Madison Square Garden dressing room, BIlly prepares for his fight against Darius Jones, Maureen inspires and soothes her husband the boxer. JG, RM

Overall, “Southpaw” is just another formulaic boxing parable that wasn’t memorable. No matter how great the cinematography and editing was, its focus on the melodramatic storyline took away the fun part of the film.

If there’s one thing that we might remember the movie for, it’s probably for the way it ended beautifully with Eminem’s “Kings Never Die”, featuring Gwen Stefani.

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“Southpaw” is slated for release on 6th August 2015 in Malaysia.

For more information, visit the movie’s official Facebook page.

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Adrina
Adrina was our former writer and now contributes to Hype. Find out what she's up to on her IG: @moonsglowslow.