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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

Billy Hope doesn't fight like a regular boxer. The reigning light heavyweight champion of the world doesn't bother with defense. Instead, at a certain point in every one of his 43 victories, an opponent's blow will land on his predictably bloodied and battered face … awakening some kind of monster inside.

No matter how bad it looks, no matter how close it seems Billy Hope is to being quite literally bludgeoned to death, that Godzilla-like side of his personality always kicks in eventually, even if it's in the 12th round. Or as one announcer puts it after another successful—and brutal—title take-down, "Just when you think there's no hope left, here comes Billy."

For most of his life, Billy Hope's anger has been his ally. Rage has led to his reign. It's built a life of luxury for him and his wife, Maureen, (both of whom grew up as orphans in the mean streets of Manhattan's once-infamous Hell's Kitchen neighborhood), along with their beloved 10-year-old daughter, Leila.

But after his latest victory, Billy Hope's anger uncorks at exactly the wrong time, in exactly the wrong way with exactly the worst consequences.

After speaking at a charity event, Billy's confronted by a hungry young contender, Miguel Escobar, who's convinced he can beat the champ in the ring. Billy ignores the man's nasty taunts at first, encouraged by Mo (as Maureen is called) to let it go. But when Escobar's trolling jeers vulgarly drag Billy's wife into the mud, too, it's too much: The champion erupts.

The ensuing bedlam between the two boxers' entourages concludes with a lone, errant gunshot that changes everything for Billy Hope, who soon loses nearly everything he's fought so hard for.

His sole shot at redemption depends on unlearning his unhealthy dependence on anger—both in the ring and out. And doing so means learning to listen to an aging boxing coach from the inner city who's learned a thing or two about redemption himself.

Positive Elements

Mo had been wisely asking Billy to step back a bit from fighting to focus more on Leila. Equally wise, she's steadfastly refused to let Leila attend her daddy's fights or even watch them on TV. Mo tells Billy she and Leila are the only people who really care about him and who will be with him after his career is over, and she's (rightly) leery of his manager, Jordan Mains, who is manipulating him to keep committing to more fights.

After the shooting, Billy Hope is forced to answer one of life's most serious questions: What do we do when we lose everything? Your family. Your career. Your passion for life itself.

An older former boxer named Titus "Tick" Wills helps Billy by giving him a job and by laying down the law regarding Billy's behavior: He has to be punctual, can't swear, can't use drugs or alcohol and has to be willing to invest in the lives of the inner city youth Tick's determined to help in his old gym. It's a humbling process for the boxing great. But slowly Billy submits to this new way of life. And with Tick's help, he learns new boxing skills and begins to get a grip on his anger (as well as his substance abuse problem). It's a journey that requires discipline, responsibility, commitment, consistency and humility.

Also, while the film may not intentionally be a critique of boxing's high physical cost, it should be noted that it does take the time to show us the massive toll the sport takes on a fighter's body. After one bout, Billy can barely move for days, walking and limping along slowly.

Spiritual Content

A sign in the background of Tick's gym reads, "In God We Trust." He's shown carrying a Bible. In a moment of anguish after one of his young charges is murdered, he laments, "God must have some kind of plan to teach me some kind of lesson. I just can't figure out what it is." Tick tells Billy during a fight, "God is watching you." Billy offers up a prayer of sorts, either to God or to someone who has died. A funeral is presided over by a priest.

Sexual Content

Bikini-clad women strut across the ring with round-number signs. Billy's shown sitting naked in a shower. (We see all of his unclothed torso from the side.) Mo wears outfits that reveal cleavage. We see her in a bra, thong and an unbuttoned robe as she's getting dressed. After a match, she flirts suggestively with her husband (sucking on his finger), and there's talk of them going "two rounds." She climbs on top of him (lifting her dress to reveal her underwear). They embrace and kiss.

Violent Content

The boxing is intense and bloody. As Billy trades blows with his opponents, scenes are filled with jarring body shots and punches to the head. Billy, especially, has a propensity for getting wounded above his left eye, his forehead bleeding profusely and repeatedly. After the fights, we see him repeatedly spit out massive amounts of blood; his bruises worsen and his bloodshot left eye practically swells shut. There are piles of blood-drenched towels.

When Miguel insults and baits Billy after the charity event, Billy goes after him, and a gloves-free melee erupts. The gunshot kills someone, producing panic, anguish and lots of blood.

An inebriated Billy perhaps tries to commit suicide by ramming his car into a tree on his estate. (His daughter discovers him lying in the entryway to their house, bleeding.) He head-butts a boxing referee, badly injuring the man's nose and face. Losing custody of Leila, Billy loses control and has to be physically restrained by multiple police officers. He angrily confronts a woman, pointing a loaded gun at her in an attempt to ascertain Miguel's whereabouts. (He seems close to shooting her until her children run up and hug her, which seems to bring him back to a more restrained reality.) He destroys his trophy room in yet another rage.

We hear that an adolescent (from Tick's gym) was murdered by his father when the young man tried to protect his mother from his dad's assault of her. Leila slaps her father's face four times as she screams, "I hate you!"

Crude or Profane Language

More than 75 f-words (including nearly a dozen paired with "mother"). Close to 40 s-words. Two uses of "p---y" and one of "n-gga." "B--ch" is uttered nearly 10 times, "a--" five or six times. God's name is paired with "d--n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

A banquet includes wine. It's increasingly clear Billy is trying to cope via alcohol and, it's suggested (but not shown), with drugs, too. Tick tells him he has to get clean if he's going to work (and eventually train) at his gym. But it turns out Tick's got a drinking problem of his own that he's apparently struggling to kick; both men are shown drinking in a bar. But Tick isn't interested in sharing a drink with Billy, telling him, "Drinking is a solitary sport."

Other Negative Elements

We see Billy vomit. Jordan Mains betrays and abandons Billy, just as Mo predicted. It's said that Mains paid off at least one fighter to throw a bout in Billy's favor.


What is it about boxing movies? If there's a genre better suited to narratives that naturally sift themes such as pride and humiliation, loss and redemption, I'm not sure what it is.

Perhaps that's because most boxing movies—take your pick from Rocky to Raging Bull, The Fighter to The Boxer, Cinderella Man to The Champ—distill their pugilist protagonist's struggles into two of the most primal conflicts a man can face: a physical war with a savage opponent determined to beat him unconscious and a parallel inner war with haunting failures equally determined to beat him hopeless.

With so much conflict going on, I suppose it's no surprise that boxing movies often trade in gritty, bruising realism. And so it is with Southpaw, a poignant, redemptive story that's also wincingly bathed in brutality and vulgarity.

This is the kind of story that pulls you into watching but is so intense in some moments (both in terms of its pull-no-punches boxing scenes and Billy Hope's similarly painful interactions with his emotionally wounded daughter) that you want (need) to look away. Jab after jab of harsh profanity and bloody boxing imagery mean this movie ultimately takes the same kind of beating onscreen that Billy Hope does in the ring.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range



Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Hope; Rachel McAdams as Maureen Hope; Oona Laurence as Leila Hope; Forest Whitaker as Titus 'Tick' Wills; 50 Cent as Jordan Mains; Miguel Gomez as Miguel Escobar


Antoine Fuqua ( )


The Weinstein Company



Record Label



In Theaters

July 24, 2015

On Video

October 27, 2015

Year Published



Adam R. Holz

Content Caution

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