Genre: Action, Drama, Sport
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence, Forest Whitaker
Chances are, that if you’ve seen the trailer for Southpaw, then you more or less have a fairly decent idea of what to expect. For indeed, Southpaw (directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter) is a film that is as predictable and conventional as they come, revelling in its by the numbers narrative of Jake Gyllenhaal’s former boxing champ’s fall from grace and subsequent redemptive rise. It’s all here. From a pulse-pounding soundtrack, to Forest Whitaker’s humble mentor and his low rent philosophical training techniques, Southpaw just about features almost every boxing cliché one can think of.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, one of the most successful light heavyweight champions of his generation. With money, fame and a loving family, Billy has everything he could hope for. But when tragedy strikes at the heart of his family, Billy’s life spirals out of control. After an altercation, he loses his boxing license, his money and his young daughter is taken away by child services. Now, if Billy wants any hope of getting his daughter back, he must turn his life around, which of course means training montages, soul searching and a climactic showdown for the championship of the world in Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas.Kurt Sutter’s screenplay does absolutely nothing new for this type of film. From the grand traditions of Rocky and Raging Bull, right on through to Million Dollar Baby and David O’Russell’s The Fighter, there’s not an original bone in Southpaw’s body. Even the characters could’ve been lifted from those other movies. Forest Whitaker’s unassuming, inner city boxing trainer even comes complete with one false eye, an image that brings to mind Morgan Freeman’s stalwart in Million Dollar Baby, while Curtis Jackson fills the role of slimy boxing promoter who’s purely in it to reveal himself as nothing more than a leech and parasite, riding high on Hope’s success train.
Thus much of your enjoyment will undoubtedly depend on your on predilection for these types of movies. But despite its somewhat over reliance on the genre’s conventions, Antoine Fuqua’s execution of Sutter’s script is expertly handled. Every punch is felt, every cut stinging, the coppery taste of blood and the glisten of sweat exudes from the frame. Despite some very dodgy entries over the course of his career (Shooter to name one), there’s no denying that Fuqua, along with cinematographer Mauro Fiore, know how to compose a frame.
But what ultimately saves Southpaw from it just being another boxing movie, is the stirring performance of its leading man. Following on from his magnificent turn in last year’s Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal transforms himself once again and delivers another knockout performance. Much has been made of Gyllenhaal’s physical transformation for the role, but where he really shines is in the scenes out of the ring and those that he shares with his young daughter, Leila (a terrific Oona Laurence). His face scarred, bruised and beaten, his speech slurred and stuttered, Gyllenhaal conveys the full pain and hurt of Hope, eschewing empathy and sympathy in equal measure, proving why he is one of the finest actors of this generation.