Like a ‘Raging Bull’ that’s been punched one too many times in the head, Antoine Fuqua’s boxing melodrama is so loaded with obviousness, there’s more pained groaning from the audience than from the guys in the ring.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, an inspiration to fans, transcending his tough upbringing in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen to claim a light-heavyweight title, a lovely, devoted wife (Rachel McAdams) and a luxurious home. This is all speedily taken away from him, when an accidental gunshot turns Billy into drug-abusing widower, with his young daughter placed in protective custody. Will he straighten up via some tough love from a scrappy gym-owning coach (Forest Whitaker) and make a lucrative televised comeback?
Viewers who have a lot of texting to do, don’t bother looking up. Already ‘Southpaw’ is being positioned as an awards-worthy plunge into grit from star Jake Gyllenhaal. He has bulked up tremendously and wears his character’s grief like a sweaty robe. But compared to his fast, flinty turn in last year’s ‘Nightcrawler’, this is simple stuff for him, suppressing his natural craftiness with lugubrious Stallone-isms. The performance is poundingly physical, yet it’s set in a fantasy world where family tensions get resolved quicker than jaws hit the canvas.