Sunday Film Roundup (6/11/2017)

Some very good results this week.

Southpaw (2015)

Director:  Antoine Fuqua

You can’t really fault boxing movies for repeating formulas.  There are not a lot of ways to spin the genre; but the same points can be made with good presentation of the material.  This is the case with Southpaw, an excellent boxing film that gives us the come-from-behind formula that we’ve come to expect from the genre; but the narrative is done in such a professional way that we remain absorbed in the story from beginning to end.

The plot:  boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is at the top of his game, both personally and with his career.  He seems to have it all:  loving family, wealth, and a championship belt.  And then one bad decision after another causes him to lose it all.  First he loses his wife, then his daughter, and then finally his career unravels.  And when I say he hits rock bottom, I mean rock bottom.  He’s reduced to sweeping the floor and busting toilets at a local boxing gym just to make ends meet.  But this is how things are in life, sometimes.

Slowly it begins to dawn on him that one of the root causes of his problems was the people he was surrounding himself with.  He gets a new trainer named Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) and resolves to retake his throne.  What follows is an inspiring story of redemption.  It’s easy to criticize a movie like this, and find fault with its simple premise.  But I don’t see it that way; it doesn’t bother me that this is the kind of story that has been told before.  Director Antoine Fuqua believes in his story, and the acting here is great.  The supporting roles make this film shine:  Rachel McAdams as the aggrieved wife; Curtis “Fifty Cent” Jackson as the sleazy fight promoter; and the towering Forest Whitaker, who does his usual A+ performance.  Jake Gyllenhaal’s preparation for this role must have been intense.  He has packed on a lot of muscle, and the fight scenes do not look staged at all.  I can only imagine the amount of training he must have had to go through to reach this level of skill.  See this movie.


The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)

Director:  Derek Cianfrace

This is an absorbing and yet hard-to-classify drama that spans two generations.  Ryan Gosling turns in his usual smoldering, James Dean-esque performance as a tattooed motorcycle stunt rider named Luke who one day realizes that a short affair with a local girl (Eva Mendes) has resulted in a child.  She’s already shacked up with another guy, but Luke is determined to “provide” for his son.

And, in the twisted logic of outlaws and sociopaths, he chooses to do this by robbing banks.  With the help of another local deadbeat (Ben Mendelsohn), he goes on a spree of robberies using his motorcycle as the getaway vehicle.  The press christens him the “Moto Bandit.”  But like all such escapades, his career in robbery comes to an abrupt end.  I won’t get into the specific details, but essentially he crosses paths with a local police officer who stops him in his tracks.  What happens after this, over the next 15 years, is a complicated set of interconnected subplots that all revolve around the Luke’s family and the police officer’s family.

Shot in Schenectady, New York, the film somehow manages to have both an urban and a rural flavor at the same time.  Yes, there are some dramatic liberties taken with the behavior of some of the characters.  But when the drama is this good, it’s hard to complain.  Watch for the great Ray Liotta in a great role as the local corrupt cop.  He’s done this kind of role before in the great 2002 film Narc, and he’s polished the act to perfection.  This is a thoroughly satisfying film that leaves us with the important message that, even though actions have consequences, it is still possible to achieve some degree of redemption.