I hate boxing, but Southpaw made me appreciate and respect the sport

Any sport that encourages the intentional physical harm of another person is, in my book, damaging to human integrity.

I’ve heard all the arguments for boxing as a sport: It’s more strategy, it’s like a chess match, they all know what they’re signing up for and agree to get pummeled.

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But I still think that teaching anyone that violence of any kind should be condoned does our society a disservice.

Which is why, naturally, I went into Southpaw with a healthy dose of skepticism.

And let me tell you, the film is probably the most realistic boxing movie there ever was. When Gyllenhaal throws a punch, you cringe like you’re watching a live match. When he takes a hit, the blood that pours from the cut looks as authentic as when pro boxers suffer from injuries. And they don’t miraculously heal. He keeps the pain with him throughout the movie, holding it close like it’s part of his character.

It’s these details and the depth that Gyllenhaal brings to his character, Billy Hope, that make you pause.

The film doesn’t try to glorify the sport at all, either. Sure, Hope has a lot of money and fancy houses, but he’s a kid who grew up in a group home and he still has that street mentality. His wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), also doesn’t love Billy’s career choice. In fact, the movie starts with him winning a match and her promptly encouraging him to take a break from boxing because she doesn’t want him to end up like a vegetable from being hit too many times in the head.

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Gyllenhaal also brings a manic sense of crazed rage to his character, explaining what fuels him to fight — again, making you sympathize, but hardly glorifying his choices.

Still, you see the struggle and the training Hope endures in order to stay on top. And you see the politics behind each match that keeps the struggle constantly alive.

And it is because of Hope, the character that Gyllenhaal clearly pours his soul into, that this movie stayed with me long after I left the theater. I cried when he cried, cheered when he cheered. I was chewing my nails down to the bit hoping for him to win in his “big match” that all these boxing movies have.

But Southpaw is different. And different in the best way.

Because more than a boxing movie, it is the story of redemption and a story of fighting, not to hurt someone, but fighting to prove to yourself and yourself alone that you can overcome obstacles and find victory in what seems to be hopelessness.

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I said this last year about Nightcrawler: Gyllenhaal gives the best performance I’ve seen so far this year. And I’ll say it again this year about Southpaw. The transformation, not just physically but emotionally, this actor goes through for this role is inspiring just to witness. And if he isn’t recognized at the Oscars, it will be a crying shame.

So do yourself a favor and go see this movie. And as a boxing hater, you better believe I mean it.


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