He Is Phenomenon…nomenon
The problem with boxing movies is that there are only ever seems to be 2 of them. There’s the one where the guy is the underdog who manages to make it big or there’s the one where the dude on top falls from grace – most likely to rise up again.
This is the latter. There is no other way around it because the film feels very much by the numbers. Let’s start with the story. Basically; Billy Hope is the dude on top but then falls from grace only to rise up again. That was easy.
OK, so there is a bit more to it than that. Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is not well educated and is quick to temper. The more he get’s hit the harder he fights back. Anger is his biggest weapon and let’s face it, it’s done him well. He lives in a big house, drives nice cars and has an entourage to feed his vanity. To keep him organised and calm is his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and his daughter Leila (Oona Laurance).
They can’t always keep him calm though as a gala dinner goes wrong after upcoming boxer Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) goads him into a fight which turns into a bit of a free for all. Shots are fired and Maureen is killed as a result.
Even though the story is nothing revolutionary the film does have knockout cast of top notch actors who all give fantastic performances. It also has 50 Cent. Obviously the stand out performance here is Jake Gyllenhaal who once again immerses himself as fully as he can into the role. Perhaps not as transformative, and I really hate that word, as his role in Nightcrawler but close.
The scenes before the gala where he has to make speeches are fully believable that he is nervous and out of his depth. His world is all about his wife and punching people. So when his wife dies we are shown a heavy slide from grief, right through depression to the edge of insanity where he rests precariously. You go from liking Hope as an underprivileged soul who just wants to live his own life to detesting him as a rather despicable father figure but at least you understand why – he’s lost half of himself.
At this point you have to cheer Leila his daughter who falls out of love with her unrecognisable father figure but feel sorry for her as she is taken into foster care when Hope loses the house, the cars, everything. Oona Laurance delivers a fantastic performance getting the perfect balance of innocence and strength. If she can land the right roles she will have a terrific future ahead of her for sure.
In order to get his daughter back Hope has to give up his pride and find a job cleaning a local gym. Along the way he tries to get himself back into training with an ex pro trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) and it’s here that my biggest gripe comes into light. Wills is meant to be a reserved and precise, no-nonsense mentor to young boxers yet the script for his character is at times cringeworthy. Gyllenhaal’s character has some questionable dialogue too but this fits his uneducated character. Whitaker’s character seems fairly well educated but is at times as eloquent as an elephant.
So let’s address the elephant in the room. 50 Cent. 50 Cent plays an “it’s all about the money” boxing promoter and whilst I have to admit I was impressed with how well he played the role he simply isn’t in the same league as the rest of the cast and ends up detracting your attention from key scenes.
Still you didn’t come to see 50 Cent you came to see how ripped Gyllenhaal has become and to see people punching people. You won’t be disappointed. The boxing scenes are perhaps not up there with the greatest boxing films but Gyllenhaal did all his own stunts after former professional boxer Terry Claybon had him for more than one training day.
Speaking of training day, if you were wondering where you’ve seen Antoine Fuqua credited before then that was probably it. It probably explains why there is a rapper in one of the key roles, the semi-questionable soundtrack and also the overall feel of the film. It also shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that this is a decent boxing film, even if it’s not quite the heavy hitter you want it to be.
- Jake Gyllenhaal
- Great Acting – Especially Jake Gyllenhaal
- Fight scenes – Mainly because Jake Gyllenhaal did them
- Janky script
- Standard boxing story
- 50 Cent