'Southpaw' Throws Some Familiar Punches

Jul 24, 2015
Originally published on July 24, 2015 7:56 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's take a swing at "Southpaw." That's a new boxing film which picks up the themes of every other boxing film according to our critic, Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: If you admire the shameless in cinema, if you consider yourself a connoisseur of contrivance, you're going to have to tip your glove in the direction of "Southpaw." It stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a totally immersive performance. But it's larded with the kind of improbabilities that would have impressed even the great contrivers of Hollywood past. "Southpaw" opens at New York's Madison Square Garden, where Gyllenhaal's character, undefeated world light heavyweight champ Billy Hope - yes, that's really his name - is defending his title. And yes, that's his knockout wife Maureen, played by Rachel McAdams, shouting pointed encouragement from her ringside seat. Like the old Timex watches, Billy can take a licking and keep on ticking. And his boxing style is to take punishment until he's mad enough to retaliate. And that worries his wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOUTHPAW")

RACHEL MCADAMS: (As Maureen Hope) The more you get hit, the harder you fight. I get it.

JAKE GYLLENHAAL: (As Billy Hope) I don't want to hear this right now.

MCADAMS: (As Maureen Hope) Only now you're taking way too many hits before you get off.

GYLLENHAAL: (As Billy Hope) Hey, listen to me. This was a good night.

MCADAMS: (As Maureen Hope) I love you. You are all I care about. The three of us, that's it. That's all that matters.

TURAN: Then, in a wild and crazy turn of events, everything changes in a heartbeat. It wouldn't be fair to give too much away, but it's always a safe bet in films like this that things will get worse before they get better - a whole lot worse. Billy's journey in "Southpaw" takes him to a classic rundown gym operated by Titus - Tick - Wills. Wills, played by Forest Whitaker, is a canny veteran trainer, a Yoda-like Zen master who has forgotten more about boxing than most people will ever know. Naturally, Billy Hope wants his help.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOUTHPAW")

GYLLENHAAL: (As Billy Hope) All I need is six weeks. I need six weeks. I'll give you my everything. You get my everything.

TURAN: As impressive as Gyllenhaal is - and he's very impressive - this character doesn't seem an ideal match for the actor. Gyllenhaal's most memorable performances - for instance, Louis Bloom in "Nightcrawler" - are with characters who have more visible intelligence than Billy Hope is granted here. "Southpaw" is proof of contrivance's clout. But there is a limit to even what it can do. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.