Let’s not beat about the bush; if you’re not into boxing flicks you will want to avoid this one like the plague. My companion (of the fairer sex) scathingly referred to it as ‘Rocky #587’ and tore strips off me for having the temerity to say that I quite enjoyed it! No other movie is quite so formulaic as the one about a prizefighter slugging it out to redeem himself. This is no different, but what the hell – ‘wish fulfilment’ should never be underestimated as a hook to get a bloke involved in a story.
We all know that it will culminate in a title bout in the final scene, and that the bloodied hero will take a fearful pounding from his punk opponent before, in the last round, digging deep to find the will and strength to land a haymaker on the jaw of the bad guy, who will then fall in epic slo-mo to the canvas.
Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), world light-heavyweight champ, has his wife (Rachel McAdams) die in his arms after an ill-tempered dust-up at a black-tie fundraiser. His life goes off the rails, he loses his title and his heart is broken when his cute little girl is taken into care. There is only one way to go when you hit rock bottom, and Jake – C’mon Jake! C’mon! – embarks on that steep and perilous journey of attaining grace under the guidance of the wise old trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker). It is important to remember that cliché rarely drifts too far from reality – the melodramatic careers of the great Ali and Iron Mike Tyson were both profoundly influenced by their mentors, Angelo Dundee and ‘Cus’ D’Amato. That’s the thing about boxing – repellent though it is to many, stuff like this actually happens.
Antoine Fuqua’s film is sentimental to the point of mawkishness, the fights are extremely brutal, and Gyllenhaal’s performance is indulgently woebegone (Billy’s scars and bruises never seem to mend). And the winner is…!