STARRING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence, Miguel Gomez, Forest Whitaker, Naomie Harris, Victor Ortiz, Beau Knapp and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson
Boxer Billy Hope life turns upside down following a tragedy which turns his life from bad to worse, including losing custody of his daughter. Broke and alone, Billy must repair his career and deal with his demons if he ever hopes of reuniting with his daughter.
Southpaw focuses on the story of Billy Hope, a punch-drunk boxer who’s rose from a New York City orphanage to become the Undisputed and Undefeated World Light Heavyweight Champion. After his latest title defence is successful, his wife urges him to quit while he still has his health to enjoy the wealth of his fame with his family. After a brawl with another boxer looking to make a name for himself tragedy strikes, leading Billy spiralling down a self-destructive path, losing everything he earned and the custody of his daughter. Reaching rock bottom, Billy must get his life and career back on track in order to regain custody of his daughter.
Southpaw is a melodramatic boxing film that ticks the boxes of the so-called cliches that one would come to expect from film pattern beats of what came before but what works in the films favour is its execution and performances across the board.
Originally the film was setup as a Eminem vehicle until it evolved and became what you see now, the soundtrack still follows the hip-hop beats with Eminem providing some tracks and also a reliable score from the late James Horner. Fuqua does well with the script written from Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter though at times I wished that Fuqua would add a few extra scenes from another point of view such as Billy’s opposition when it came to fights in the ring as there could’ve been interesting elements there. Make no mistake about it however though that the story is about and focuses entirely on Billy Hope and the film rests on Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance and boy does he not disappoint.
Coming off of his soon to be iconic performance in Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal returns to the big screen in ridiculously tanked fashion as an alpha male type which eventually as the film progresses he dives completely into character as he takes an unpredictable path of self-destruction and attempts to rebuild everything around him from scratch. In certain scenes when Billy’s anger gets the best of him, you notice the switch go off in his eyes and that’s the kind of performance Gyllenhaal has been bringing to the table lately and makes you care about the character as life literally keeps beating him back down to the ground. Outside of Gyllenhaal the supporting cast are solid, with Rachel McAdams providing the brains behind Billy’s career mixing toughness with vulnerability whenever on screen with Gyllenhaal and their chemistry in the film you buy into, as well as the dynamic arc between Gyllenhaal and young actress Oona Laurence as his daughter who gives a natural performance, her rage understandable and painful, and yet it’s the spark in her eye and smile on her face when Billy mentions the idea of returning to the ring via a charity bout, somehow got me. Forest Whitaker takes a generic mentor role on paper and gives it credibility and humour with his performance, including the scene of heartbreaking realisation that what he does at his gym for young kids may not make a difference for most of them in their lives. The conversation with Gyllenhaal about his eye however (‘One’s cloudy and the other’s sunny’) brought a few chuckles. Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson also gives a solid performance as a boxing promoter, often subtle yet you question some of his motives (well, I did) during the film that unfortunately never come to fruition or I looked too much into it and unfortunately Miguel Gomez didn’t get much screen time when he eventually became the films antagonist. The boxing scenes themselves are done well and edited neatly, maybe that’s the problem though with why some reviewers don’t enjoy it as much due to that editing style. The POV hit-style camerawork was the highlight from the film giving it a different flavour as the shooting style of the boxing fights was reminiscent of those in Rocky Balboa.
A storyline that we’ve seen before that is well executed, directed with some solid performances from the supporting cast, with the film elevated by Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, clearly cementing himself as one of the best actors in Hollywood right now. Personally I would’ve liked some of the sub-plots to have had extra minutes for certain scenes to hit harder but that’s just me. 8/10