Let’s see if the following plot description sounds familiar:
The lightweight boxing champion of the world has been unbeatable for a series of matches which, admitted by his manager, have been against inferior opponents. A possibly superior opponent is constantly denied a shot at the title resulting in a verbal sparring session in which the opponent makes sexual comments about the champ’s wife. After a tragic loss of a close one the champion loses his spirit and subsequently the title making the opponent the new champion. Down on the ground he goes to a small gym in a poor neighborhood where he befriends a black coach. The coach agrees to train him and help him retrieve his fighting spirit which is possible due to the magical elements of the training montage. When he is back on track again the only thing left is a boxing match between the old champ and the current champ as the old one has some scores to settle.
You guessed it: the movie I’m reviewing this week is Rocky III!
OK, not really, it’s Southpaw; a movie that didn’t even have the decency of giving Sylvester Stallone a credit.
Southpaw revolves around Billy Hope, a man on top of the world as reigning boxing champion of the world. After getting taunted he ends up in a brawl with up-and-coming boxer Miguel “Magic” Escobar. During this brawl Billy’s wife Maureen gets shot by a crew member of Escobar. Obsessing over this incident, Billy loses himself in drugs and alcohol. After attacking a referee in the ring he ends up suspended and eventually indebted. He continues to spiral out of control and nearly dies after crashing his car while driving intoxicated. After this incident Child Services steps in and takes his daughter Leila under their care. Now Billy has to face the biggest fight of his life: to get his life back together and become a man who is able to take care of his daughter. He does so by getting a job as a toilet cleaner at a gym owned by seasoned boxer Titus “Tick” Wills (Forest Whitaker). While trying to get his life together he is given the chance by his former promoter to take on the current champion, Escobar; the man he holds responsible for the death of his wife.
Aside from the broad strokes in the script that resemble Rocky III (and Rocky V by the way), the gritty and serious approach to the material feels more like the original Rocky. At the center of it all is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Billy Hope who is giving another performance that shows an Academy Award is overdue. He’s surrounded by several solid actors of which Forest Whitaker stands out the most. This is a typical Whitaker role and at this point he has become one of those actors who never seem to really act, just play variants of the characters they always play. There is a supporting role for Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson who plays a Don King like promoter without charisma. I’m always curious about these casting choices. Does Jackson pull viewers to the cinemas? I understand that a familiar name sells the movie better, but surely it would have been possible to attract an actual actor who is just as well-known for this role? The most thankless role goes to Rachel McAdams as Billy’s wife Maureen. She only has two tasks: show us how she takes care of Billy’s business and die in sake of moving the plot forward.
A big part of sports movies is the music. Ever since Rocky ran up the stairs to Gonna Fly Now a pumping soundtrack and training sequences have become obligatory to this type of movie. Sports movies peaked in the 80s when every movie about a fighter going the distance had its own theme song full of inspirational lyrics. These were mostly rock songs back then. Nowadays rap seems to be the choice of music for these movies and it doesn’t work as well as rock songs do. The 80 beats per minute in the average rap song never provides training scenes with the faster tempo they require.
South paw is a well acted movie that sadly brings nothing new to the table.