Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent
Jake Gyllenhaal put himself through a ridiculous amount of physical work to play light-heavyweight champ Billy ‘The Great’ Hope in Southpaw. Unfortunately the film doesn’t quite match his efforts. If you’ve seen any other boxing film then you’ve seen Southpaw before, done better.
Gyllenhaal’s Billy Hope starts off the film on top of the world: he’s the boxing champ, he has the stunningly beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams), the huge mansion, the adorable daughter (Oona Laurence)… Unfortunately his world comes crashing down in one awfully melodramatic scene, when blows are exchanged with his rival, a shot is fired, and Billy’s wife ends up bleeding out on the fancy hotel lobby floor.
Things go from bad to worse for Billy as he hits rock bottom: losing his house, his title, and worst of all, his daughter. Can Billy get his life back together? Who knows, these films are so difficult to predict.
A fighter knows only one way to work.
Rocky, Raging Bull, The Fighter, all spring to mind when watching Southpaw. The film is just so full of boxing clichés it’s almost unbearable. Even Warrior had more to say, and the tagline of that film was, “Family is worth fighting for”.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers but Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw comes very close to ticking every box for boxing film clichés, from terrible life-wrecking tragedy supplemented by alcohol abuse, to the one final fight for redemption and become the world’s greatest once more – end credits roll.
That is how most of these boxing movies go. I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but Southpaw comes very close to ticking all of those boxes. That isn’t to say that Southpaw is terrible; its performances and the moments in the ring are its redeeming features. The fights are intense, brutal, full of blood, sweat and tears, which can be expected from a boxing movie.
Jake Gyllenhaal is an undeniable screen presence, boosted by yet another physical transformation to be marvelled at, especially considering his frail frame in Nightcrawler. His depiction of a guy from the wrong side of the tracks is truly remarkable. He has an uncanny ability to melt into his characters and he does so here.
Billy Hope knows how to take a punch, but he also drops bombs.
The most successful moments in Southpaw are Billy’s interactions with his daughter Leila, wonderfully played by Oona Laurence. This is where the heart of the film should be, and should have been developed further instead of going through every boxing movie cliché in the book.
Apart from some solitary glimpses of a more interesting film, Southpaw is just too in awe of other, more successful, boxing movies. Forest Whitaker’s Tick Wills is basically Clint Eastwood’s Frankie Dunn in Million Dollar Baby. Instead of saying the line, “I don’t train girls”, Wills opts for the very similar, “I don’t train pros”. 50 Cent plays the typically corrupt agent seen in every single boxing picture ever made, and there is far too much of him: his delivery is flat, and you can’t help but think, “Hey, it’s 50 Cent”. He’s never believable as successful boxing manager Jordan Mains.
Southpaw could have been great if writer Kurt Sutter and director Antoine Fuqua hadn’t decided to waste the talents of Gyllenhaal, McAdams and Laurence on a frankly poor and unoriginal script, which in turn delivered a mediocre film. If you haven’t seen Raging Bull, any of the Rocky films, or The Fighter then there might be something in it for you, but the truth is that there are far better boxing films out there. I would recommend any of them over Southpaw.