Synopsis: From acclaimed director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and screenwriter Kurt Sutter (“Sons of Anarchy”), Southpaw tells the riveting story of Billy “The Great” Hope, reigning Junior Middleweight Boxing Champion of the World (Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal). Billy Hope seemingly has it all with an impressive career, a beautiful and loving wife (Rachel McAdams), an adorable daughter (Oona Laurence) and a lavish lifestyle. When tragedy strikes and his lifelong manager and friend (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) leaves him behind, Hope hits rock bottom and turns to an unlikely savior at a run-down local gym: Tick Willis (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker), a retired fighter and trainer to the city’s toughest amateur boxers. With his future riding on Tick’s guidance and tenacity, Billy enters the hardest battle of his life as he struggles with redemption and to win back the trust of those he loves.
Release Date: July 24, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
When it comes to films about boxing, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. Typically an up and coming fighter earns their shot at a big-time opponent and either they win, as in The Fighter, or they lose, like in Rocky. Sure, there is some flexibility within that framework, but by and large it’s hard to argue that we’ve seen all the boxing subgenre has to offer. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Southpaw, a new boxing drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) and directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Brooklyn’s Finest).
As Billy “The Great” Hope, Gyllenhaal begins the film as a much vaunted champion known for submitting his body to immense punishment in the right, and yet somehow he’s 48-0. Billy’s unwillingness to box defensively does come at a major toll, however, both on his wife Maureen (Aloha‘s Rachel McAdams) and daughter Leila (Ooona Laurence). The two women in Billy’s life love his passion for boxing, but they realize Billy is only thinking about the present and not the future. His reckless boxing and hothead demeanor are likely to lead him down some dark roads, and as luck would have it they do. When he’s stripped of his championship and struggling to keep his family together, Billy sets off on his own redemption story – an attempt to sharpen his skills as a boxer and reclaim his former glory in the ring.
If the plot of Southpaw sounds familiar don’t fret, it follows a very predictable pattern when it comes to its drama, both in the ring and out. Billy’s quest for redemption calls to mind countless sports dramas of old, and comes complete with an older, wiser trainer played by Forest Whitaker. We know where Billy’s story is going long before it even actually gets moving, and director Antoine Fuqua doesn’t do much to hide that fact. Truthfully, the only element that anchors Southpaw is its performances, which are solid all around. There are a few confusing stylistic choices in the characters’ delivery, but it’s not hard to get past them. It’s just a shame that the film couldn’t have done something original with boxing, especially since it has a lot of talented actors at its disposal.
While the boxing subgenre is admittedly limited, what Southpaw does with its sports-based drama does little to generate anything but a casual interest. The performances are all top notch, if a little too mumbly, but the real meat of the film and utimate appeal is in the boxing but it is far too predictable to be worth a recommendation. There are far better boxing movies out there, many of which Southpaw borrows from wholesale.
After going full-blown sociopath in Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal has followed up his award-worthy performance with another demanding role. For Southpaw, Gyllenhaal fully embodies the character of Billy Hope in every sense of the word. He’s extremely fit, his demeanor mimics that of a boxer, and he sells the family drama very well. The only problem is that his performance is predicated on a delivery that, for some reason, requires a lot of mumbling. In fact, most of the cast spends a large majority of the movie delivering their lines in a nearly inaudible, needlessly under-their-breath way. Here and there that delivery would have been fine, but for nearly the whole movie it starts to become grating. Outside of that, though, the cast is excellent from top to bottom. Rachel McAdams is sweet and caring, while Forest Whitaker plays the sage-like trainer with vulnerability and wit. But the true gem of Southpaw is Oona Laurence as Billy’s daughter Leila. Even in the most emotionally demanding scenes, Laurence carries her own, and stands up right next to Gyllenhaal.
Predictable boxing setups aside, Southpaw does have the appropriate look of an in-ring sports drama. Every hit feels real and every drop of blood is palpable on the screen, to the point it’s hard not to get wrapped up in Billy’s fights. Sure, each match may have that prototypical push and pull, before the hero eventually gathers the will to win, but a boxing film needs to feature realistic boxing, and Southpaw nails that element. The dramatic scenes, on the other hand, are shot with splashes of style, but nothing too noteworthy. If all you want is some impressive boxing scenes, then Southpaw is worth a look.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Antoine Fuqua
- Screenwriter(s): Kurt Sutter
- Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal (Billy Hope)Rachel McAdams (Maureen Hope)Forest Whitaker (Tick Wills) Oona Laurence (Leila Hope)50 Cent (Jordan Mains)
- Editor(s): John Refoua
- Cinematographer: Mauro Fiore
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: James Horner
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA