Irish filmmaker Liam McGrath tells the uplifting story of a real-life “Rocky” in “Southpaw,” an understated but involving documentary about Francis Barrett, the light-welterweight boxer who represented Ireland in the 1996 Olympics. On the plus side, pic explains and emphasizes the sociological significance of Barrett’s celebrity: As a lad from the marginalized Travelers community of western Ireland — a roving band of modern-day gypsies — the boxer is viewed in his homeland as a groundbreaker on the order of America’s Jackie Robinson. On the downside, thick regional accents of almost everyone involved may turn off even English-speaking audiences in offshore venues.
Without belaboring the issue, McGrath underscores the magnitude of the obstacles Barrett overcame while gaining public acceptance. (As sportswriter Tom Humphries notes, Travelers face an Ireland “as hard and racist as anywhere in the world.”) More affectingly, pic focuses on the relationship between Barrett and Chick Gillon, the avuncular coach who spotted potential in young Francis when latter was just a boy. “Southpaw” achieves poignancy as it indicates that, as helpful and nurturing as Gillon has been, it may be time for Barrett to move on to a more experienced mentor.