“Southpaw” is equal parts brutal and touching, an effective, classic-form sports-as-redemption movie elevated by Jake Gyllenhaal’s all-in performance.

The absurdly chiseled Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, an undefeated, up-from-the-mean-streets light heavyweight boxing champion known for relying on force more than finesse. When he’s not raging in the ring, Billy is tender and loving with his pragmatic and beautiful wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), and young daughter, Leila (Oona Lawrence).

Billy’s on top of the world, handing Rolexes out to his posse and living the big mansion life, until Maureen is killed by a wayward gunshot. Then Billy loses his will to fight. When a fight promoter (50 Cent) convinces him to get back in the ring, he gets pummeled and loses the championship. This touches off a deep downward swirl.

When it’s over, Billy has lost nearly everything, including his home, and a resentful Leila is being held by child protective services. Billy has to rebuild his life. He turns to a strict, demanding trainer (Forest Whitaker) who runs a low-level gym and starts rehabilitating himself. He wants his daughter, and his championship back.

“Southpaw” is hardly a subtle movie, but then it doesn’t want to be one. Writer Kurt Sutter, the creator of “Sons of Anarchy,” knows he’s working along classic lines and he embraces them while giving his characters more color than most. The booming rap soundtrack from Eminem’s Shady Records is all storm and fury, while director Antoine Fuqua’s slick style effectively travels from outright violence to sentiment, although he does succumb to an overly clichéd training montage toward the end.

Still, it’s Gyllenhaal — physically ferocious yet tenderly forlorn — who sells the movie, putting both the beast and the heartbeat within on full display.



Rated R for language throughout, and some violence

Running time: 123 minutes

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