The modicum of pleasure delivered by "Southpaw" arrives thanks to its cast, who struggle bravely and energetically with the hopelessly bland text and the invisible, impersonal direction.
Southpaw isn't content with presenting a gallery of clich�d characters. It takes the time to put flesh on the bones.
I veered between being awed and appalled, though mostly the latter.
"Southpaw" is a tremendous accomplishment of mainstream cinematic craft, a near-perfect match of director, material and star.
When you look past Fuqua's jittery directing, which dices up shots and leans the camera close into its star's painstakingly battered mug, Southpaw is a melange of familiar fighter movie ideas and images going back to Rocky.
Just as director Antoine Fuqua starts to close in on something interesting and unexpected, he retreats to the safety of his corner and gives us what we've seen too many times before: a predictable flurry of melodramatic jabs.
Even when we're aware our emotions are being manipulated, we're rooting hard for Billy Hope to beat the odds and climb the mountain, because have you seen how movie-adorable his daughter is? Don't they deserve some happiness?
It's Gyllenhaal -- physically ferocious yet tenderly forlorn -- who sells the movie, putting both the beast and the heartbeat within on full display.
The trouble with how hard Gyllenhaal goes in Southpaw is that he's in the service of weak material, so you notice the effort.