Predictable drama that still packs a punch thanks to star Jake Gyllenhaal
This manly melodrama actually begins where most ‘uplifting’ sport-as-a-metaphor-for-life weepies climax – with the hero’s hard-won triumph over adversity. Lefty pugilist Billy Hope (yes, be assured there is plenty of play on that name), brought to screen by an intensively ripped and rugged Jake Gyllenhaal, retains his title as Light Heavyweight ‘Champeen’ of the World in a slow motion spray of sweat and blood. He has already risen from rags to riches, has the limos, the mansion and the fawning entourage (led by ruthless manager Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson). But his fierce and protective wife (Rachel McAdams) warns him, 'When the Billy is Great bubble pops they’re going to scatter like cockroaches.'
And lo, it comes to pass. Tragedy strikes quickly. Billy loses literally everything. Thereafter we are on familiar ground as our protagonist – with the help of Forest Whitaker as the obligatory grizzled cat mentor, with a stinky gym and a surfeit of life wisdom — fights his way through humiliation, penitence and personal demons to redemption. Gyllenhaal, in a role originally written for Eminem (who eventually limited his contribution to a speed rap training anthem that’s no match for the Rocky theme), is so committed and compelling he overcomes the clichés, even when director Antoine Fuqua surrenders to them. (At least one bout is unintentionally as gigglesome as it is gory, and a main character’s death scene is as protracted as Hamlet’s, though a lot less eloquent.) Gyllenhaal also does fine work with child actor Oona Laurence in establishing a credible, moving father-daughter relationship burdened with grief and rage.
It is frustrating that some loose plot threads are brushed off, so that we can wallow in Hope’s hopelessness as long as possible, and there is no real suspense when it’s obvious this can only end one way. But Gyllenhaal, at the least, punches above the plot’s weight with a winning, award-calibre performance.
General release from Fri 24 Jul.