“Southpaw” is an admirable attempt to tell a rags to riches story using boxing as its theme.

When I was a kid, I watched ROCKY with my dad.  The brilliant anthem, the amazing theme by Bill Conti and, of course, the memorable scene of Sylvester Stallone running up the steps of Liberty Bell in Philadelphia all left an indelible impression on me.  Prior to ROCKY and RAGING BULL, there was another story about an underdog making a comeback in 1931’s THE CHAMP.  It would serve as the basis for a new and audacious way to tell this age-old story – Antoine Fuqua’s SOUTHPAW.

Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal, NIGHTCRAWLER) has everything – an undefeated boxing title, a beautiful, but feisty wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), an amazing daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence) and money.  He is supported by his promoter, Jordan Mains (Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson) and his trainer.  After his most recent win, his wife urges him to scale back his bouts and enjoy their lives while they can.  Mains, however, wants him to sign a lucrative contract, while Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) challenges Hope to a fight, which he declines.

After a charity event, Escobar again confronts Hope, goading him into a fight.  In the ensuing fight, a gun goes off, killing Maureen.  Distraught over her death, Hope’s life crumbles around him until he has nothing, including Leila, who has been made a ward of the State after an accident nearly kills him.  Hitting rock bottom, and with the help of Tick Willis (Forrest Whitaker), Hope rebuilds his life, fighting his demons, rebuilding his relationship with Leila and working towards making a comeback.

This film is nothing short of stellar:  Antoine Fuqua’s tight direction, showcasing all the actors’ talents, Kurt Sutter’s (creator of TV’s ‘Sons of Anarchy’) touching, yet tough script, John Refoua’s lightening-fast editing, nothing is held back. Mauro Fiore’s use of first person point-of-view camerawork makes the movie feel all the more visceral and intense.

Sadly, this is James Horner’s last score.  And he has never been better.  Eminem, who was originally set to star as Hope, wrote two songs for the movie, ‘Phenomenal’ in the vein of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and ‘King’s Never Die’ featuring Gwen Stefani, both of which support Horner’s touching and evocative score, an appropriate epitaph for such an amazing career.

It may be a bit early to start talking about Oscar contention, however SOUTHPAW is a very strong contender.  It leaves you with the hope that if you put your mind to it, anything is possible.