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I’ve never really considered myself to be a sports movie fan. After all, I don’t have much of an interest in actual sports. However, the rare opportunity of seeing a screening, without going to New York, presented itself and with Nightcrawler still fresh on my mind, I wanted to see if Jake Gyllenhaal could keep the ante going.
Characters & Story
Up until April 11th, 2014, Billy (Jake Gyllenhaal) had a decent life. Granted, he was in the foster system for most of his life, but the silver lining of that experience is that in the system he met his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and with her, they have a child named Leila (Oona Laurence). As for present day? Until that night on April 11th, he was a highly decorated fighter, had a 48 bout undefeated streak, and while he was a bit rough around the edges, he was still a bit of a poster child.
However, on that one night, it all went to hell. You see one man, an up and coming fighter, named Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez), decided to push Billy. Which, mind you, isn’t anything new since Miguel has done it before. This time, though, Miguel made it about more than proving himself the better boxer and brought Billy’s wife into it. With those words uttered, so went Billy’s control and between Billy’s crew, from Hell’s Kitchen, and Miguel’s, as the trailer shows, Maureen ends up dead.
Something which inexplicably shakes Billy’s foundation for he seemingly was highly reliant on Maureen. She was his manager, the one who held the leash on his temper and, outside of Leila and one of Billy’s friends from childhood, was the only one who could be counted on. So, naturally, without her around, his life falls apart. Luckily, though, despite a Don King-esque fight promoter like Jordan Mains (50 Cent), and a bunch of traitors, a man named Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) seems willing to take Billy on. Thus providing him with the breaks and cement he needs to rebuild himself. Not just for his sake, but so that his daughter doesn’t end up in the system Billy had to endure for a good portion of his life.
While on this blog I cover a good handful of genres, sports dramas are probably non-existent. However, with what everyone involved brings, I may give some which come out in the future a chance. Starting off, I have to say that despite some of the roles Gyllenhaal has been in, when it comes to straight dramas, there isn’t a huge amount of competition. For never mind how he fits the physical embodiment of a boxer, much less how the makeup crew makes it look like every cut, every bruise, and any sort of blood spilt is real, but Gyllenhaal also finds a way to make Billy’s backstory be visible in the character’s movements, actions, and speech.
Leading to the topic of little Ms. Laurence, for it is through her we get to see a lot of what makes Billy the type of character who probably may only be 2nd to Rocky Balboa. For this little girl, she represents all of Billy’s hope, and him trying to make sure all that he went through never happens to her. So with her being snatched away, it hits you as hard as he gets hit in the ring. For with her reacting inversely to the situation, you can see him having flashbacks of whatever he went through, and it is hard to not feel for him.
Though, don’t get me wrong, why Gyllenhaal is a force to be reckoned with, that little girl held her own. For whether it was breaking down due to her mother’s death, or being separated from her father to blaming her dad for the whole situation, as well as being upset with him because he is helpless against the system, it really led me to believe that this little girl, depending on the competition, could be nominated for a major accolade. Albeit in the supporting actress category but nonetheless, she definitely is a standout.
Leaving one last thing, the direction and writing. Now, being that a majority of films are highly predictable, and often you can be assured of a happy ending, I must admit I was unsure if that maybe done here. For while we see Billy build himself back up, with a villain like Jordan Mains, I found myself wondering if when all was said and done, would Billy beat Miguel Escobar, or would his “win” just be going round for round and showing he isn’t done yet.
But, to focus on the directing, and editing, what this film does well is use slow motion to build tension, almost to the point where it is like watching a live fight or one on PPV. For, especially during the fight with Escobar, a part of me wanted to roar at the screen, get animated, and act like I had no sense of decorum. Then, alongside that, director Antoine Fuqua using a camera angle in which it is like we are getting hit with the punches, and jabs, makes the film almost dizzying to watch for you are already connected to Billy through his emotions, but to then step into what he is physically up against, it is almost overwhelming.
To be honest, I’m on such a high from this movie that I don’t even know if what maybe a blaring concern, or issue, for others, I could really recollect. I mean, I will say that Forest Whitaker playing a magic negro had me roll my eyes, but with Whitaker and Gyllenhaal having excellent back and forth, which got quite comical at times, it is like anything negative I can think of pretty much got compensated with something and left me with a surplus.
Overall: Worth Seeing
For a movie to be 123 minutes, and the worse thing about it being the uncomfortable chair, that is big for me. Much less, being that I’m not a sports fan I, in retrospect, find it amazing how much I was on the edge of my seat, leaning in so close I could probably smell the sweat from the person in front of me, for what was a fictional match up. Hence the Worth Seeing label. For while Gyllenhaal may not have won the Oscar, among other awards, last year, arguably him showing he can be consistent may just get him the win. With, may I add, Ms. Laurence perhaps collecting a few statues alongside him.