Dan's Review: "Southpaw" isn't anything new
Jul 30, 2015 10:07AM
● By Dan Metcalf
Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw - © 2014 The Weinstein Company
Southpaw (The Weinstein Company)
Rated R for language throughout, and some violence.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Skylan Brooks, Naomie Harris, Victor Ortiz, Beau Knapp, Miguel Gomez, Dominic Colón, Jose Caraballo, Malcolm M. Mays.
Written by Kurt Sutter.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
There’s a certain romance to the “boxing” movie. I not sure if it’s the catharsis of singular violence, the survival aspect or the gritty brutality, but there’s something about cheering on a sympathetic protagonist whose only weapons are his (or her) hands. Nothing captured this appeal more than Stallone’s Rocky series, having its nadir in the 1970s and 80s, but there’s always been an appeal to the “sweet science” on screen. Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw is the latest boxing fable to hit the big screen, but does it pack a punch?
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Billy Hope, the reigning welterweight champion of the world who enjoys all the trappings of his success; a mansion, cars, an entourage and being able to share his wealth with his family, including his beautiful wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and daughter Leila (Oona Laurence).
Billy’s world comes crashing down after Maureen is killed in a freak accident involving gunplay in the lobby of a hotel where a rival boxer insults the champ. After Maureen’s death, Billy goes into a spiral then ends with him losing custody of Leila, his fortune and his boxing license.
With nowhere else to go, Billy turns to the Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), the owner of a skid row boxing gym to help him get his life back in order. Eventually, Billy’s former promoter Jordan Mains (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) offers him a chance to fight again for the title against the man provoked the encounter that led to Maureen’s death. The end result is predictable.
Southpaw is a good, but common boxing movie. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it’s the sum of many “Rocky” parts, especially Rocky II and 5, in which the hero loses everything, only to “return to his roots,” get back to “the fundamentals” and “reinvent” the way he boxes in order to triumph in the ring. The only think missing is a greased-up Stallone and Bill Conti’s Rocky trumpet fanfare music (“Ba, ba, ba, ba, bah, ba, BAH, ba, ba, ba…”).
Yes, Southpaw is tirelessly predictable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy rooting for the underdog one more time. Gyllenhaal is a fine actor who threw his body into the role 100 percent. The movie was originally written for Eminem to play Billy, but he thankfully backed out. Forest Whitaker also provides a great performance as the gym owner who’s seen his own set of troubles, while the rest of the cast is serviceable. It would have been better to see more of McAdams, though.
There are plenty of other “boxing movie” cliché’s in Southpaw that can’t be overlooked, in addition to its “Rocky” similarities. One of them is the tendency to make every fight seem exciting and full of punches. Anyone who forked over $100 for the latest Paquiao-Mayweather pay-per-view can attest that the reality of boxing isn’t exactly the stuff of a Hollywood story.