By Jackie Kallen
The upcoming boxing movie “Southpaw” opens this weekend nationwide. On Sunday night in Detroit, the film had a Detroit premier and I was fortunate enough to be a part of it. The Weinstein Company, who produced “Southpaw,” allowed me to host a small viewing party for the boxing community.
All boxing fans can name their favorite boxing film. For many it is “Rocky” or “Raging Bull.” For others it’s “The Fighter” or “Million Dollar Baby.” Time will tell if “Southpaw” will match up to those. But for those of us on hand to see this advance screening, it totally lived up to the hype.
Among my guests for the event were former Lightweight Champ Hilmer Kenty, former Junior Middleweight Champ Bronco McKart, former “Contender” alumni Tarick Salmaci, former Top 10 fighter Damian Fuller and the legend himself Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns.
Before the movie started, Eminem and Jake Gyllenhaal addressed the audience. Eminem, who was originally tapped to play the lead, contributed his unique music to the soundtrack. He and Gwen Stefani did “Kings Never Die” and he did another song called “Phenomenal.” He said how proud he was to be involved in the project. At the time he was offered the part, he opted to focus on his music instead. It proved to be a lucky move for Gyllenhaal, who has a great chance of an Oscar nomination for his portrayal.
Gyllenhaal explained how grueling the training was for this role. He and trainer Terry Claybon worked for a half year to create the body and conditioning that show up onscreen. Gyllenhaal took a crash course in Boxing 101 and it shows. He looked the part and seemingly got into the mindset of a boxer. He got ripped physically and dug into the psyche of man who is a fighter, a husband, and a father.
Boxing fans will recognize a lot of faces in the movie. Victor Oriz plays a boxer, Jimmy Lennon jr. is a ring announcer, Jim Lampley and Roy Jones jr. are TV commentators. There are other boxing officials and insiders scattered throughout which gives the film an aura of authenticity.
The story itself is someone predictable, but done in a different way. We’ve all seen the broken-down ex-champ who has to fight his way back to the top. This plot, however, has twists and turns involving family and a wise old trainer portrayed by Forrest Whittaker. The way the story develops is both heartbreaking and tear-jerking. Without naming names, I saw tears in the eyes of some of these former warriors who related all too well to the story. We all loved it.
Anyone who sees this movie can get sucked into it. But a professional boxer who has walked in those shoes and had a family while trying to seek the glory, fame, and money will know too well what this film has to say. Managers, trainers and promoters will identify with the storyline and all amateur and pro boxers will most likely seek this film out. In my opinion, it’s well worth seeing.