Oh for a realistic boxing film. That’s what you expect of this right? Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen) behind the camera, Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy, The Shield) on writing duties and the Weinstein’s on producing duty. Big hitters all of them, so can they produce the realistic boxing movie fans have been waiting for?
The film follows the ups and downs of fighter Billy Hope, played really rather well by a beefed up Jake Gyllenhaal who’s on top of the world of boxing from a middleweight perspective at least. Miguel Gomez (The Strain) plays Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar, another fighter who calls Hope out, wanting to fight him. During a fight in a hotel with Escobar and respective crews, Hope’s wife Maureen, Rachel McAdams (The Time Traveller’s Wife, Sherlock Holmes), is shot and killed by one of Escobar’s entourage, although never caught.
Hope spirals (not just a clever name), loses his house, his manager Jordan Mains (Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson), his trainer and his daughter is taken into social services. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what happens next does it? Hope springs (enough with the puns now) and finds a new trainer in Tick Wills, the fabulous Forest Whitaker, who teaches him how to defend, something he’s not really done so far preferring the Homer Simpson method of boxing – get punched in the face a lot till the other man tires. He comes back with a title shot against new champion…who could it be? Escobar and…wins his daughter back.
First, the good. The performances are outstanding here. You’ve never seen Gyllenhaal in a role like this and he plays it brilliantly. Sure there’s a certain ‘Raging Bull-ness’ to the snorting rampaging ring master but it works. The role was originally intended for Eminem and filming started before he withdraw to concentrate on his music, I liked 8 mile but I don’t see anyone else in this role now. However it’s Whitaker who steals it for me. His performance, the emotion in particular, is outstanding.
The direction too is really something. You feel the sweat pouring from the screen and blood splatters everywhere, it’s great. The innovative use of camera angles in the fights get you more involved then you perhaps want to be (in a good way) and even when things are slowed down, the grime oozes.
So after good comes bad and, I’m sorry to say, there’s quite a bit. The story for starters isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, it’s too obvious, it’s too Rocky! The dialogue is full of clichés which match the story. Curtis Jackson as Hope’s manager is just awful. I think he’s supposed to be a bit sleazy and just in it for the money but you just see 50 Cent smiling in a film. The boxing scenes are simultaneously brilliantly shot but take a lot of liberties. These days most fights are stopped and in one scene when Hope just drops his hands and is getting punched in the face, the referee would have stepped in immediately and stopped the fight, doesn’t happen, and there’s a few of these instances too.
Finally remember Karate Kid? The Crane kick? Yeah, we get something like that at the end. Our own special move to defeat the ‘bad guy’. Not even Rocky went that far…