Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, 50 Cent, Oona Laurence, Miguel Gomez, Victor Ortiz and Skylan Brooks.
Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services.
Southpaw feels like writer Kurt Sutter and director Antoine Fuqua spent a good couple hours perusing a website listing clichés. Realistically, when so much has been accomplished in film already it is only natural that many modern movies feel similar or draw inspiration from others, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Southpaw is operating on a whole new level of a lack of originality. If you have seen the trailer you can literally guess every single plot point along with its blatantly telegraphed conclusion.
Sometimes this can be forgiven if the execution is on-point, which is something where Southpaw is a mixed bag. Jake Gyllenhaal continues to disappear into roles playing characters that are seemingly mentally unstable. After terrific turns in Nightcrawler (where he was robbed of both an Oscar win and nomination), the little seen but amazing independent mind-fuck Enemy, and his enigmatic detective persona in Prisoners, you could argue that Southpaw is another win for the method actor’s portfolio on the basis of the quality of his performances. He consistently mumbles over lines, portrays a distraught, grieving alcoholic mourning the loss of his wife and loss of the custody of his young daughter all with a self-destructive vibe, and sells the hell out of the physicality of the in-ring boxing action. It is evident that he chiseled up his body for the role and practically trained to be a boxer. To put it bluntly, Gyllenhaal is fantastic but the movie around him is terrible.
Take the loss of his wife for example (played by Rachel McAdams), instead of opting for subtlety with a death from cancer or a disease equally fatal, she meets her demise in the most boisterous way possible; getting shot at a charity event because Gyllenhaal couldn’t maintain his composure in the face of some trash talk from his upcoming opponent. We then bear witness to numerous overly dramatic scenes of him crying loudly into bedsheets and attempting suicide.
Manipulative is the best word to describe Southpaw. Kurt Sutter simply doesn’t know how to write drama without resorting to bombastic theatrics and a heavy-handed tone. Viewers of his hit show Sons of Anarchy will be very familiar with this and may embrace it, but for everyone else it will scream of artificial drama because he isn’t talented enough to write real interesting characters that feel grounded, paving the way for drama that comes across smooth and natural. Southpaw is a constant plea for the viewer to get involved, but the reality is that no one will care.
Antoine Fuqua’s direction leaves a lot to be desired as well; the boxing fights aren’t all that engaging and rely far too much on slow-motion punches with buckets of blood flying out of the mouth of each contestant. The pacing is scattered all over the place, namely because the script contains too many characters. It really is hard to care about anyone in this movie, and that even goes for the relationship between Gyllenhaal and his daughter because the movie is constantly jumping ahead months at a time, not allowing us to ever really connect with the moment. For this writer/director duo it is easier just to have the daughter scream things like “it should have been you that died” for shock value and a rise out of the audience. The ending also feels rushed and out of nowhere, eliciting a “that’s it”feeling.
There really isn’t much to praise in Southpaw outside of the acting. Credit doesn’t just only go to Gyllenhaal either as Forest Whitaker makes for a good motivational trainer, while 50 Cent surprisingly makes for an evil promoter more concerned with turning the revenge battle into a must-see event. It’s actually a shame that Southpaw doesn’t dive deeper into the emotional toll that the media circus can take on a situation where lining their pockets with money is their only real interest.
Eminem likes to yell at the top of his lungs “I am phenomenal”during the trailer and a training montage, which actually offers up an intriguing comparison. His music is currently mainstream and tailored for radio hits, similar to the narrative of Southpaw, which is basically to tell the most generic story possible and send anyone who sees it home happy. Neither are phenomenal, they both just suck.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook