First Hit: Although at times hard to watch, this is an extremely well-crafted and acted film.
It is hard to see someone get hit in the face. It is even harder when they mug and beg the person to hit them.
Boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) does this time and time again as a way to get angry enough to beat his opponent. As the Light Heavyweight Champion he uses this tactic to win all his fights. Outside the ring he has one focus, his family. When he looks over the ropes, face looking like beaten hamburger, his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) gives him the look – the look that says “I love you and let’s go home”.
When he finishes the job, she takes him home, and he goes to his daughter’s Leila’s (Oona Laurence) room and becomes a heart filled father. Maureen and Billy have a single focus around their love and interdependence; recoup from the battering Billy takes and ready himself for the next one.
Maureen and Billy were both brought up by the State of New York and share a deep bond and connection that works perfectly for this film. Maureen makes all the decisions for their family; when to fight and when to rest is the primary focus. She is his rock and life, while he is the spirit and strength. A tragic shooting sets Billy’s life spinning out of control and everything falls apart. Billy becomes lost and he’s left to find his way back home.
This is when Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker), who owns a boxing gym becomes a trusted guide for Billy’s salvation. All the fight scenes are extremely well choreographed. The settings and feel of the locker rooms, boxing arenas, charity gatherings, and the 300 square foot apartment Billy finds himself living in are spot on.
The dialogue (of which Billy has little) between everyone; Jordan (Curtis Jackson 50 Cent) the fight promoter, Willis, Leila, Maureen, Hoppy (Skylan Brooks) the kid who’s looking for guidance, and all the characters is well timed, has the right flavor and are perfect for the roles.
Gyllenhaal is jaw-dropping amazing. By far and away, performance of the year. He does so much with his eyes, face, posture, that one doesn’t notice that he doesn’t steal the film with dialogue. McAdams is wonderfully centered and perfect for the role of a beautiful woman brought up in a tough life and who loves her man. Jackson (50 Cent) was a very good opportunistic promoter who’s only thinking of himself despite his words. Whitaker, as usual, steals every scene he’s in – you just can’t take your eyes off him (he seem always on the edge of bursting). Laurence was sublime and if this young person’s performance is any indication of her future – we’ll be seeing a lot more of her. I won’t list them all here and everyone’s performance in this film was very well done. Kurt Sutter wrote an amazing script that captured the tenderness and bravado of the people in the sport of boxing. Antoine Fuqua got everything and more from the script and actors – not sure this film could have been done any better by anyone.
Overall: This film is filled with the highest level of craftsmanship imaginable by everyone who had a hand in creating it.