Finally caught up to this film and I think I’m basically on board with the consensus which is that Gyllenhaal is really good in the lead as a champion boxer who loses everything and sets out on the road to redemption, but the film as a whole is not so good, an often slow slog through every cliché in the book. But Gyllenhaal really does his best to save the movie. Gyllenhaal’s really be on fire of late; this makes the fourth in a string of great performances: Prisoners, Enemy, Nightcrawler and now this. It’s a raw performance, a real inhabiting of the body of this beaten boxer. When the film gets mawkish or forced, Gyllenhaal’s intense honesty kept me watching. Rachel McAdams is excellent, as always, as his long-suffering wife; the mechanics of the plot require her to disappear for most of the film, but she’s a welcome breath of fresh air, completely real and engaging when she’s on screen. Her death scene (spoiler? Well, it was in the trailer and I’m not sure a movie this predictable even has spoilers) is riveting; Fuqua just lets Gyllenhaal and McAdams play the scene out and it’s easily the best thing in the movie, really harrowing. As to Forest Whittaker, let’s just say that his character’s name is Tick, which is apropos of his performance which is ridden with them. Speaking of that, let’s just say that the main characters name is literally B. Hope. Yes, that’s the level of subtlety here. But this has a standard Fuqua problem, which is that it’s too long and has some extraneous subplots. Nothing here is as bad as that fat security guard in The Equalizer, but I really don’t know how I’m supposed to take the plight of a street kid named Hoppy seriously. Even Gyllenhaal, giving it everything he’s got, looks embarrassed when forced to say things like, “I’m starting to worry about Hoppy.” But the biggest thing here really is the predictability; you could stop the movie five minutes in, write down in detail what you think is going to happen in the movie and get every detail right, I think. And the last half-hour in particular suffers; Fuqua has nothing new to bring to the table for the big climactic fight and in the pummeling world of the boxing ring, Gyllenhaal’s performance does kind of get lost. In a movie like this, it’s important that the film is able to link the character’s personal struggles with the struggle to succeed in the chosen sport. So that were able to feel that when the Hoosiers team wins the big game, it’s about how they’ve grown as people. But the climactic fight here never feels like that; it just feels extraneous to the character’s personal struggles. About midway through the fight, I thought to myself, “I forgot this movie was two-and-a-half hours long.” Well, it isn’t. It is right at two, but it feels long. And what a bizarre and abrupt ending scene. Gyllenhaal’s been giving great performances in great movies, but this is a step down in terms of the movie. He’s great and the section of the film that features Rachel McAdams works really well, actually; they have chemistry. But the longer the film goes, the duller it feels and the more perfunctory the movie feels as it wearily checks off the cliché boxes. It’s not a horrible movie, but it would be without Gyllenhaal. His performance raises the film a whole star. But still I can’t really recommend it. 2 ½ stars.
tl;dr – Gyllenhaal’s intense, towering performance as a troubled boxer can only elevate this film so much, given its extreme predictability and weary clichés. 2 ½ stars.