Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, 50 Cent,
For Oscar-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Nightcrawler”), “Southpaw” is a great career exercise where he once again pulls off a stunning transformation. The excitement, however, is contained to Gyllenhaal’s performance as the script by Kurt Sutter (“Sons of Anarchy”) endured a few transformations since it was originally written as a sequel to Eminem’s “8 Mile”.
Director Antione Fuqua (“Olympus Has Fallen”, “The Equalizer”) has ridden the fluke prestige, following the Oscar for Denzel Washington’s “Training Day” performance about as far as it will go. “Southpaw” could be an almost-identical twin to Russell Crowe’s “Cinderella Man,” just adapted for grittier, modern times. In fact, it so rarely reaches for anything beyond boxing genre stereotypes that it dilutes what Gyllenhaal is aiming for.
“Let it go, just walk away,” she said. Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) and his wife, Maureen (McAdams) both grew up orphans in the system. His rage, when taunted by fighter Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez), couldn’t be contained; fists were thrown, a brawl, then gunfire. The lightweight champion of the world would lose everything starting with his wife that night, then his house and finally his daughter, Leila, to the state.
Ordered to get a job, attend anger management sessions and find an apartment, Billy hits rock bottom before begging Tick Wills (Whitaker) for a job. The two will find solace in their combined misery and when Tick finally agrees to help retrain the former champion, they both find something to live for.
"Gyllenhaal’s performance is about rage, intensity, sorrow and lots of blood."
I must hand it to McAdams for her brief time on screen in creating a character that you feel throughout the rest of the film. Her death scene is the most gripping moment in “Southpaw” as Fuqua keeps the focus on her last moments, breath and final words. Maureen is similar to that one piece in the Jenga game, where if removed, the entire thing crumbles.
Gyllenhaal’s performance is about rage, intensity, sorrow and lots of blood. The focus of the performance is always on the physical and his look. Rarely does the script afford the actor a chance to simply exist as this broken fighter, instead continuing to offer raging examples.
The suspense going into the stereotypical climactic fight (you guessed it, with the guy somewhat responsible for his wife’s death) begins without much emotion or suspense despite the high stakes (money, custody and purpose).
Through tight and creative editing, jolting cinematography and one of the final scores from James Horner, “Southpaw” does find its stride in the final scene. This won’t be the Oscar-contending performance Harvey Weinstein likely hoped for. “Southpaw” never makes its mark on the genre because it can’t separate itself from all the previous films it seems to admire or aspire to be. Yet, if this is the first boxing film you have ever seen, I could see why someone might be impressed.
Far south of adding anything new to the genre.