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Redemption In The Boxing Ring: Southpaw

Boxing seems to inspire writers to invent stories of redemption, and that’s what Kurt Sutter has concocted in Southpaw. Bound to attract notice for Jake Gyllenhaal’s go-for-broke performance, the film is less likely to garner kudos for originality—or believability. It’s slickly made and never dull, but director Antoine Fuqua displays the same kind of reckless energy as his protagonist. The effort is wasted on an illogical screenplay filled with two-dimensional characters.

Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, an undefeated light-heavyweight champion who seems to have it all: a devoted wife (Rachel McAdams) and daughter (Oona Laurence), a hard-charging manager (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and a crew of old friends surrounding him as long as the gravy train is running smoothly. But early on, the story mercilessly strips him of everything that matters. Once he hits rock bottom there’s nowhere to go but up. That brings him to an urban boxing gym run by Forest Whitaker (good as always), whose tough-love approach and hard-won wisdom help Gyllenhaal put his life back in order.

Forest Whitaker-Jake Gyllenhaal-Southpaw

Photo by Scott Garfield – Image Courtesy of Weinstein Company

Can our hero win back the love and trust of his little girl? Will a rebound in the boxing ring restore his self-respect, as well as his bank account?Southpaw leaves little doubt for us to ponder.

Jake Gyllenhaal gives the leading role everything he’s got, but the part is so superficial that there are no layers for him to explore, no colors to reveal as the story progresses.

In a never-ending chain of boxing movies (Golden Boy, Champion, Body and Soul, Rocky, Raging Bull, et al.) Southpaw is barely a contender.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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