|The Frankfurt-Tipp rating:
|Approx. 125 min.
Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) has literally punched his way from the streets to the top. In the past, life has never been kind to him. But with his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) by his side, he's made it all the way up to light heavyweight champion of the world. It's been a tough road that has taken a toll on Billy, and not just physically. Now he has a lot of money and a happy little family. For Maureen, it's the perfect time to get her Billy to hang up the boxing gloves. After all, she doesn't want to worry about him all the time, and she doesn't want her young daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) to have to watch her father get beat up badly by his opponents. The stage is set for a happy, quiet future: But then a tragic incident destroys everything and throws Billy to the ground again. And this time, he'll have to fight his toughest opponent yet if he wants to make it back to the top: himself...
Following the huge success of action thriller The Equalizer, director Antoine Fuqua once again tries his hand at dramatic material with Southpaw. Yet subtlety is not exactly his production's strong suit. The dramaturgy is filled with all imaginable clichés of sportsman and especially boxer movies and the characters like the money-hungry manager or the ice-cold rival are drawn quite one-dimensional. Even Jake Gyllenhaal's intense acting is a bit too exaggerated in places to be authentic. On the other hand, the boxing scenes are superbly realized and seem real in an almost painful way. And the story, as formulaic as it is drawn, is absolutely rousing and grippingly realized, especially in the second half.
This is not only due to the visual realization, but also to the great interplay of Jake Gyllenhaal and a truly wonderful Forest Whitaker. The two of them manage perfectly to make the predictable dramaturgy exciting and to fill the sometimes very flat dialogues with a certain meaningfulness. Even though the story told here has been told many times before in a very similar form, the actors and Fuqua's atmospheric staging manage to make the very conventional dramaturgy rousing and exciting. And even the finale, which really corresponds to every imaginable cliché, is still extremely moving. To pull off something like this is a bit of a feat and is a testament to the great talent of the director and his actors.
Thereby, credit must also be given to the physical transformation Jake Gyllenhaal has undergone for this film. He does indeed look like a boxer who has fought his way up from the gutter. Muscle-bound and with a certain bravado to his ugliness, he thus gives his character the credibility that is undermined by his over-acting, which is a bit too heavy at times. A good balance, from which the film can also benefit. Praise is also due to Rachel McAdams, who is able to develop a really interesting and strong character in the short time she is in the film. If Maureen seems like the typical pretty accessory at the hero's side at the beginning, it soon becomes clear that she's the one holding Billy's life together, both professionally and personally, and that she's going to have to put at least as much effort into that as her husband does in the boxing ring.
Southpaw is not a perfect film. For what it wants to be, though, it's really quite great and engaging cinema that entertains well and, in some moments, really gets under your skin. If you're not expecting a revolutionary new story and can overlook some minor flaws, you'll be rewarded here with a first-rate boxing drama that's worth every penny of the ticket price for the very real-looking fight scenes alone. Absolutely worth seeing!
An article by Frankfurt-Tipp