Southpaw Review

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Posted July 31, 2015 by Eduardo Gueiros in Movies

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Written by: Kurt Sutter

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence

Released: 24th July, 2015

 

Southpaw is an emotionally charged film that combines a time-tested formula with brilliant performances to create an entertaining experience. While hardly a classic, the film delivers nonetheless. Particularly for fans of the genre.

Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a world champion boxer who went “through the system” as an orphan, only to come out on top. Not only did he make millions of dollars and forge a legendary career, but he also married his childhood sweetheart, Maureen (Rachel McAdams); with whom he had his only daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). However, his picture-perfect life comes crashing down after Maureen is inadvertently shot during an altercation. After a series of unfortunate events, Billy is left with nothing, and has to battle back to try to regain some semblance of normality in his life.

Once he finally reaches rock bottom – a tough fall for someone who was perched at the top for so long – he is forced to look for help outside of himself. He eventually finds Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker), a former professional boxing trainer who now runs his own gym with the goal of keeping at-risk kids off the streets. But if these two men are going to coexist, Hope will have to alter his attitude, his overall demeanor, and most importantly, his priorities.

SOUTHPAW

While the plot is familiar, Southpaw is able to occasionally put its own twist on things, to alter the somewhat cliché nature of the story just enough to make it different from its genre brethren. Most noticeably, the fight scenes we observe are longer and more detailed than usual – making it almost seem as though we’re watching a live fight – and take on an illustrative purpose as they highlight our protagonist’s mindset through the way he moves in the ring.

Billy Hope is known for being able to take a punch and using anger to fight back: “The more you get hit, the harder you fight.” This apparently occurs rather frequently, as we get the sense that the announcer is used to ending Hope’s fights with, “A comeback knockout win!”

This in-ring style correlates directly with how his character interacts with the real-world, and helps set the tone as the film progresses to focus more on his personal life. As a result, when we see Hope get into the ring throughout the film – and at different stages in his life – we are able to observe what his true emotional state is like through the way he fights.

The truly impressive factor in all of this is the length and detail the filmmakers go into during his fights. Long encounters that are paced in such a way that communicates to us the inner workings of the character in a more significant way than verbal or even facial expressions would otherwise do.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Oona Laurence star in SOUTHPAW.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Oona Laurence star in SOUTHPAW.

Gyllenhaal’s performance is incredible. The actor is able to once again remind us just how much range he has.  Transitioning from his role in Nightcrawler to this more emotionally challenging, and physically demanding portrayal of a boxing superstar. He excels in representing the dichotomy between his character in everyday life – a charismatic, fun-loving guy who cherishes his family – and the explosive persona he takes on when anger gets the best of him.

In this contrast, he particularly shines in the moments of intense emotional turmoil, lending true believability to the tragic circumstances he’s come to know. Alongside Gyllenhaal, Oona Laurence and Forest Whitaker are able to bring to life the true despair contained in the film. In doing so they help elevate not only each other’s performances, but also the impact scenes have from an emotional standpoint.

As I previously mentioned, the film is in no way groundbreaking. Some will argue the film is too emotionally charged, in a way that is draining to the audience. However, I think the filmmakers set out to purposefully cause visceral reactions in the audience during certain exchanges, as they touch on elements of life that truly to hit people this hard. Gyllenhaal’s performance also warrants a viewing, as he continues to thrive as one of the better actors today. While I don’t see Southpaw winning any awards in the near future, I do see it being a film people watch for years to come; a feel-good story with a darker edge that won’t disappoint.


About the Author

Eduardo Gueiros