Southpaw is a boxing picture with Jake Gyllenhaal. I can save us all a bunch of time, because everything else - every damn thing - is just wallpaper. I suppose I could specify that it is primarily a The Champ-model boxing picture, about the boxer's relationship to his family, far more than it is a Rocky-model boxing picture, about the boxer's sense of self-worth.

Billy Hope is the boxer - even the characters in the movie seem to recognise what a bullshit made-up name that is - and he's living a good life in the film's first quarter, finally giving in to his wife Maureen's (Rachel McAdams) constant hounding that he needs to retire. There's just one wrinkle, in the form of hungry young boxer "Magic" Escobar (Miguel Gomez), who won't be content until he's fought Billy. The two have an ugly public spar, during which time a member of Escobar's crew accidentally fires a gun that inadvertently kills Maureen, and leaves Billy in a rageaholic funk. It's because of his intemperate behavior that the government intervenes, judging him an unfit parent to his darling moppet of a daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence). So she's plucked up by Child Protective Services, and he has to start from the ground up to prove he can provide financially, by taking a job at the gym run by "Tick" Willis (Forest Whitaker), who will eventually train him how to be a more sophisticated boxer, just in time for his fight against Escobar.

That kind of groaning pileup of highly predictable clichΓ©s can be redeemed a lot of different ways: the writing can be particularly incisive, the filmmaking highly dynamic and inventive, the acting especially nuanced and honest. Southpaw has a cloying, aphorism-heavy script by Kurt Sutter, of TV's Sons of Anarchy; direction by Antonine Fuqua, a filmmaker so one-note in his thick macho aesthetic that he saw fit to make a
King Arthur movie and a Los Angeles cop thriller in broadly the same style; but the acting, now there's just about something there.

Primarily, there's how obvious it is that Gyllenhaal is hellbent on winning an Oscar, and he's pushing himself hard to be the most interesting performer he can manage to see that goal come true. This is by all means a less interesting performance than he gave in Nightcrawler, with its erratic, nervy frayed edges, but he commits as hard as he can to the film's melodramatic touches and flings himself into selling the relationship between father and daughter - not aided in the slightest by the script's hairpin-turn contrivances concerning Leila's behavior, which a veteran grown-up actor would have had a hard time making sense of, meaning that Laurence is completely out to sea, but Gyllenhaal at least rages and weeps convincingly. It's an unsurprising portrayal of an obvious part, but at least he executes it terribly well, something that cannot be said for the remainder of an equally unsurprising, obvious motion picture.