“Southpaw” is an engaging documentary about Francis Barrett, a young Irishman who beat the odds to box in the 1996 Olympics. However, it is more than a “Rocky”-style sports film, with enough human interest to involve even those viewers who aren’t interested in athletics.
Francis is a “Traveler” — one of a group of gypsies who move about Ireland and live in trailer parks. They’re a law-abiding group who don’t cause trouble, though they’re not particularly ambitious, either. Most of the boys spend their hours boxing.
Francis’ trainer, Chick the barber, is a second father to him. He offers Frank advice for in the ring (“Hit hard and hit often”) and out, leading him through the amateur ranks up into the big-time, including a spot in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Director Liam McGrath tells the story simply, like a news feature. There aren’t any narrative tricks or gimmicks. He knows the story is genuine enough without him prodding it unnecessarily, though there is a middle section of the film that could have used some better story-telling to make it clear what has happened and where things are headed. (It’s around the time Francis gets married and moves to London.)
Most of the sincerity comes from Francis himself. He has a sweet boy-next-door quality, utterly innocent and kind, but an absolute menace in the boxing ring. His relationship with Chick is particularly heartfelt, and the documentary as a whole is a tenderhearted labor of love.
B+ (; )