Posted on July 23, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, and some violence
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Intense boxing scenes with disturbing images, gun violence, murder, suicidal behavior, child removed from her family
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 25, 2105
Date Released to DVD: October 26, 2015 ASIN: B012BPM536
Copyright 2015 Weinstein Company
Copyright 2015 Weinstein Company

Didactic and unabashedly manipulative, “Southpaw” borrows from almost every boxing movie ever made. It telegraphs every development and then, in case we missed it, tells us what just happened. The dialogue is purplish and melodramatic. The filmmaking is self-consciously arty, with shadows and reflections — or smoke and mirrors. The storyline is so soapy it almost slides off the screen. As Thelma Ritter says in “All About Eve,” “Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.” Scriptwriter Kurt Sutter (“Sons of Anarchy”) has to learn to trust his audience.

Heartfelt performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, and Forest Whitaker give the story more weight than it deserves, and director Antoine Fuqua knows how to film the boxing scenes so that each is a drama of its own.

A movie hero generally has to start with nothing and get something or start with everything, lose it all, and then get it back. Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope (this film really does hit every point home with a sledgehammer), who had nothing and now, as the movie begins, has it all, so we know he has to lose it. Hope grew up in what we used to call orphanages. All he had was a girl named Maureen who believed in him and guided him and an anger so powerful that he could use it in the ring the way Popeye uses spinach.

We see him before a title fight, his hands getting wrapped in pristine gauze under the supervision of the referees, who literally sign off on them before the gloves go on. Billy has a moment alone with Maureen (Rachel McAdams, in a richly observed performance). And then there is the fight. He gets hit until he gets furious enough to battle back with everything he has, and then he wins. He and Maureen return to their mansion, kiss their adorable daughter Leila (Oona Laurence), and go to bed. And then it is all gone, and he has to literally fight his way back, mopping floors at a dingy, inner-city gym and being trained by a crusty old pro (Burgess Meredith, no, I mean Forest Whitaker). He has to learn boxing all over again.

Gyllenhaal’s physical transformation, so soon after his skeletal appearance in “Nightcrawler,” could be stunt-ish — or just a chance for him to get back in shape. But he makes us feel the almost feral elements of Billy’s understanding of the world around him, and he shows us the way his growing understanding of himself as he has to take responsibility for his choices is reflected in the ring. His scenes with McAdams are deeply felt, tender, and sexy. The movie gets a split decision, but Gyllenhaal and McAdams are a knockout.

Parents should know that this film has constant very strong language, sexual references and a non-explicit situation, brutal and bloody boxing matches, gun violence, drinking and drugs, sad deaths of a parent and a young teen, references to domestic abuse and prostitution, child removed from family, suicidal behavior and assault.

Family discussion: Why did Tick make Billy clean the gym? Was the judge right to take Leila away? Why did Billy need to change his style of fighting?

If you like this, try: “Rocky,” “Warriors,” and “Body and Soul”

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