Hitting a little to the left

Mired by melodrama, Southpaw’s circumstances create Murphy’s Law: The Movie. Egregiously named Billy Hope (Jake Gyllehaal) loses everything in the course of an hour – family, home, possessions, court cases, jobs… hope. If it can be lost, Billy will lose it.

Hope was a champion, orphan turned WBC unbeaten light heavyweight. Southpaw depicts boxing as cinematically glamorous – and then the adrenaline fades for an out-of-the-ring story. Black eyes and cuts do not heal with edits. Bruised ribs stay bruised. For this initial act, Southpaw’s reality is thick and true. Then it’s lost.

Southpaw can only feed on tragedy. A mumbling Gyllenhaal, whose mammoth physique otherwise sells the character, is turned from authentic to a crumbling pile of reserved machismo. Self-destruction becomes the lone source of Hope’s character development.

Hope’s family is taken after a show of aggressive masculinity gone wrong. There is no boxing purity – it’s about two uncontrolled fighters slinging disparaging remarks until their reactions turn them into high school teens brawling on the floor. Only total disaster brings them to any sense.Southpaw makes things personal. Billy Hope’s anguish is drawn out and extended. Script work uses a crying, distant child as a motivator, shameless in exploitation of a father/daughter bond for any thematic energy.

What follows is a routine “redemption through sports” saga where the sport itself is designed to be a stirring metaphor. It almost works, laced with a training montage and bit parts to surround Billy with positive influences. Too much is needless though. As the narrative clamps down on Billy, Southpaw swindles audiences by building a cavalcade of villains – on and off screen, mostly off – to enhance the artificially stacked odds in the otherwise well composed finale.

In two hour form, it’s a comical pile on of uncontrolled circumstances…

Director Antoine Fuqua pairs with TV penman Kurt Sutter for the script, and Fuqua, often dense in his ethnic-driven martial arts and action films, feels guarded. Snippets of low income, tragic beginnings are a barrier. Sutter’s work is better suited for weekly episodes. In two hour form, it’s a comical pile on of uncontrolled circumstances; from nothing, to something, back to nothing, then something. The film is composed like a flawless U. The beginning and the end at the peaks, the collapse timed to reach the bottom. Movies are always a journey. This one is too simple.

There is little point in dragging Southpaw through the boxing movie pantheon. Rocky and Raging Bull are safe. Soutpaw’s efforts glean the typical – even redundant – methods. Hard work, sacrifice; they tell the same story but the reasons for its hero to fight are overstated. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]

Power punch @ 1:52:56

Gorgeous work pours from Southpaw’s Blu-ray, giving off an intense depth which never relaxes. Imagery is given an energy as light sources heavily favor contrast. Created dimensionality is sublime, stuffed with flawless black levels and competing brightness. Compositions milk the style, and do so for the entirety of the film.

It’s surprising. Southpaw is a muted film. Remove the book-ended live fights and color is typically drained. Flesh tones veer pale. At times, color seems to be removed in totality. Lucky then this one has the dominating contrast it does.

This Anchor Bay/Weinstein production was captured digitally. The Arri Alexa and Red Epic do the honors. Early cinematography is the cause of some noise, especially in Hope’s home. Walls tend to swarm with artifacts. Bitrates are enormous. There is little challenge coming from the source. The Blu-ray end does what it can to minimize the impact.

Besides, nothing is lost. Southpaw is spectacular in fidelity. All of the bloody, gnarly masses which make up a boxer’s 12th round face is here. Detail swells early and is never lost. Even the youngest cast member Oona Laurence is showcased with visible facial definition.

Resolution is superb. Stadium details are exquisite, managing full crowds in dense, sometimes single color light which could be a blob if done wrong. Instead, they’re as sharp as they would be live. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

DTS-HD support will make a mark with arenas and gym ambiance. In Madison Square Garden, balance is a challenge, yet the score, crowd, and punches are firm in their placement. During the last fight, some first-person segments hit the LFE and surround channels jump in to support the full effect.

Slow motion punches are where the exaggeration can fire up, necessitating deep low-end support. Same goes for the hip hop soundtrack. There’s plenty of force. New York itself becomes a character, with activity spread throughout the soundfield and some specific cues – sirens, car horns – tracking between channels. While 5.1 often feels empty in an era where 7.1 is common, Southpaw does well to fill space. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

Eight deleted scenes are also sometimes extended scenes as they run for 20 minutes. Inside the Ring is a bland promo masquerading as behind-the-scenes feature, with another 20 minute of runtime. A live Q&A panel with the cast post screening breaks tradition at 19 minutes. A montage of real world training is brief at four minutes. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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