Southpaw Movie Review
Sometimes a performance raises the quality of the film, making the viewer forgive the obvious flaws and bridge the gap in quality. In the case of SOUTHPAW, the differences are too great to go unnoticed as the film’s generic storytelling isn’t able to support Jake Gyllenhaal’s Oscar worthy performance.
SOUTHPAW tells the story of the fall and rise of undefeated boxing champ Billy Hope (played by an absolutely ripped Jake Gyllenhaal). After a tragic accident, he loses everything and spirals into a rage-filled alcoholic. With the help of trainer Tick Wills (Oscar winner Forest Whitaker), Billy must get his life back on track to regain custody of his daughter from social services the only way he knows how, through boxing. It’s basically like every boxing movie you’ve ever seen but without any unique themes, techniques or personality.
The characters are riddled with cliches going through the expected motions from what previous films have taught us before – a supportive but concerned wife (Rachel McAdams), an untrustworthy greedy manager (50 Cent), a wise old trainer who helps the less fortunate (Whitaker), a cocky villainous opponent (Miguel Gomez), and of course our foolish hero who must hit rock bottom before seeing the error of his ways (Gyllenhaal).
Child actress Oona Laurence, who plays Billy’s daughter Leila, does an excellent job as does Whitaker and McAdams in their respective supporting roles. But they are overshadowed by poor storytelling and awful musical cues as if the film aspires to be sappy. However, the lack of heart in the film keeps us from truly caring for the characters and SOUTHPAW is never able to fully achieve this head scratching goal of being overly sentimental.
In 2001, Antoine Fuqua directed TRAINING DAY. An exceptional film that brought an Oscar win for Denzel Washington and an Oscar nomination for Ethan Hawke. Since then, KING ARTHUR, SHOOTER, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, and THE EQUALIZER have fallen by the wayside. While SOUTHPAW may not be even as good as these forgettable films, it stands out slightly more only because of the incredibly raw performance from Gyllenhaal. Ignoring the trite storylines from Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter’s unoriginal screenplay, Fuqua focuses on the beginning and ending fight segments, which are full of distracting camera shots that tell less of the story and are meant to look cool and exciting. I can only guess that Fuqua must have had a long aspiration to make a boxing movie. But this is 2015, and unfortunately, SOUTHPAW is no RAGING BULL. Resembling more closely to ROCKY IV that came out 30 years prior, SOUTHPAW did modernize one area by replacing Survivor on the soundtrack with Eminem. But even the cool new track is played over a tired training montage.
Last year, Gyllenhaal was number one on my list of ‘Best Performances not nominated for an Academy Award’ (click the link to read) for his role in the massively underrated NIGHTCRAWLER. While it seems the actor is fulfilling a one, two punch in phenomenal performances, I can’t imagine that SOUTHPAW is a strong enough film for him to punch a golden Oscar ticket this year either.
Those who love all sports movies or are just big fans of Jake Gyllenhaal might have some mild satisfaction watching the film, but those that saw the trailer and thought, “oh brother, another boxing movie” should be advised to trust your instincts and bob and weave away from SOUTHPAW.