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Southpaw | Film review - Jake Gyllenhaal's boxer is fighting fit. Shame we can see his punches coming

Southpaw - Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Hope
(Image credit: Scott Garfield)
(Image credit: Scott Garfield)

Skeletally skinny in last year’s Nightcrawler (opens in new tab), Jake Gyllenhaal is pumped up and fighting fit in Southpaw (opens in new tab), a boxing melodrama from The Equalizer (opens in new tab) director Antoine Fuqua that pummels the viewer into submission with a one-two combo of brutal action inside the ring and relentless clichés everywhere else.

Gyllenhaal is reigning Light Heavyweight champ Billy Hope (a role originally conceived for Eminem), an orphan from New York’s Hell’s Kitchen who has scrapped his way to the top, with devoted wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), cute-as-a-button daughter Leila (Oona Lawrence) and an entourage of rowdy hangers on by his side. Then a shock incident leaves his life in ruins, transforming the movie into another timeworn drama of loss and redemption.

Southpaw - Forest Whitaker, Jake Gyllenhaal

(Image credit: Scott Garfield)

Southpaw isn’t a total flop. Submerging himself in the role of the punch-drunk, inarticulate, bullishly raging Billy, Gyllenhaal oozes blood, sweat and tears with Method-style conviction, while Forest Whitaker makes the most of a grindingly formulaic part, that of the ruefully wise mentor who turns the hero’s life around. As for the boxing action, it’s gruellingly brutal - as Whitaker’s grizzled coach observes, Billy’s defensive strategy is stopping punches with his face. And the hero's climactic bout against his trash-talking rival (Miguel Gomez) is a real whopper.

Off the canvas, it’s a different, all too predictable story. Fuqua’s direction is so club-fisted and Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter’s script so hackneyed that we can see every dramatic punch coming a mile off.

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Certificate 15. Runtime 124 mins. Director Antoine Fuqua. http://youtube.com/v/D68vmev7KZc

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.