SUPER STAR JAKE GYLLENHAAL ACTS HIS WAY THROUGH THIS TIRED AND CLICHE RIDDLED BOXING FLICK, THAT THROWS ITS PREDICTABLE TURNS AND PLOT POINTS AS FAST AS JAKE’S CHARACTER CAN THROWS HIS PUNCHES, BUT WITH GREAT PERFORMANCES FROM THE CAST AND REALLY INCREDIBLY SHOT BOXING SEQUENCES, THE FILM MANAGES TO RISE ABOVE OVER THE FAMILIAR AND TIRED TERRITORY IT’S TREADING THROUGH , BUT BARELY.
From the minute this trailer drop everyone was screaming “Jake Gyllenhaal is getting an Oscar” most of that probably stimulated from his controversial snub for Nightcrawler (and Prisoners, 2 years back). The hyped increased more when the films producer Harvey Weinstien publicly stated that Gyllenhaal will win the gold statue this year, I’m sorry to tell you Harvey, but that ain’t happening, but before I get into that I wanna set up the movie. Southpaw is directed by Antoine Fuqua who directed such films as Training Day, The Equalizer and Olympus Has Fallen, the film was written by Kurt Sutter (Creator of Sons of Anarchy) and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Noami Harris, Forrest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.
Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a one-time boxer at the height of his fame, with a fancy house and a loving family, and despite his career, his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), pleads for him to quit so he can spend time with his daughter Leilah (Oona Laurence). He announces his retirement during an event, but tragedy strikes shortly thereafter that he will be tacking some time off but at the wake of a tragedy, Billy descends down a downward spiral of self destructive abuse which results with his beloved daughter Leilah (Oona Laurence) being taken away. The only way he can stay afloat and win back his family is another pro boxing match. His last hope is returning to the world of boxing with the help of trainer Titus “Tick” Wills (Forest Whitaker).
Now if you are fimilar with films like Rocky and The Fighter, you know how this is gonna play out and while Southpaw is NO WHERE NEAR as good as those to previous films, it has it’s bright spots, namely the performances. With Jake Gyllenhaal leading the pack, who plays Billy as a gruff street wise family man, who you get the sense probably never made it through high school. Maybe because he kept punching everyone, but that’s just an educated guess. Gyllenhaal throws himself into the role and even went as far as gaining what can only be described as a monstrous amount of weight for this character. Gyllenhaal is all kinds of raw in his performance delivering his dialogue with the smooth cut swagger of a 90s rapper as well as the attitude (not a surprised since the character was based off of Eminem, yes, that Eminem).
Gyllenhaal does a great job of showing us how vulnerable and relatable Billy Hope is, whether he’s at the top of his game, spiraling down a drug educed path or trying to pick up the fallen pieces. There is a high physicality to his performance that just oozes both swagger and relatibleness when ever Gyllenhaal is on screen. THAT BEING SAID, he ain’t getting nominated for this. Even with all he has going for him, the performance isn’t nearly that good. Maybe if this “powerhouse” performance was by an reliability unknown actor then we could be having a Oscar conversation, but as it stands it’s a typical performance from a movie with this subject matter.
Forrest Whitaker gets a lot of mileage out from his portrayal of Titus, the no nonsense alcoholic gym trainer. While there is enough on the page to keep the character from being a total cliche Whitaker tackles the character as if he is lobbying for another Oscar as well, which helps because he gives the character probably more depth and emotion than I think was ever on that original script. By the nature of the story you know where Whitaker and Gyllenhaal character relationships will take them, the to the top (SPOILERS) but watching them act off each other is a great treat giving the witty dialogue they have written for them to spill out on screen.
While I don’t give Fuqua as much credit for the great performances as I do to the actors, the boxing scenes are where Fuqua shines the most, I’m not even a casual fan of boxing and all my knowledge of the sport comes from the various movies I see about the subject, but from I what I have seen in real time, Fuqua does a great job of capturing the really grit and force behind these boxing scenes, each one is more gruesome and uncomfortably brutal than the last.
Even though a lot of the bright spots and best part of the movie isn’t even the boxing, it’s Gyllenhaal’s struggle to regain the only constant thing in his life, his family, this after 50 cent, who plays Gyllehnaal’s manager, abandons him for a rival boxer. 50 is almost laughable in his turn as generic greedy manager #312, that we come to know and see many times in these boxing movies.
All of the other supporting cast are either okay or just wasted, with the exception for Oona Laurence who gives a wonderful turn as Gyllenhaal’s daughter Leliah, she is great and has the right amount of honesty and fierceness to her performances that makes her one of the stand outs.
Yet like I said in the opening performances can carry a movie for a mighty long way, but if everything else is tired and formulaic you can’t help but noticed after a while, for me it felt like producers were hoping to ride the film off of the performances so that no one would notice the films formulaic writing and plot device that’s borderline offensive I thought (poor Rachel McAdams although she is very nice to look at in the film).