Southpaw – Review
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer and Tears of the Sun) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams and Forest Whitaker, along with noted screenwriters Kurt Sutter ("Sons of Anarchy) and Richard Wenk, Southpaw is a boxing film about Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal), the undefeated reigning Junior Middleweight Boxing Champion of the World.
Billy Hope, a former felon in his youth, has turned his life around as we see he is now at the pinnacle of his boxing career with huge financial success, an attractive and adoring wife (McAdams), a well-adjusted adorable daughter (Oona Laurence) and a beautiful home. Shortly after a recent bout, tragedy strikes out of the blue causing his wonderful world to come spiraling crashing down, leaving Billy emotionally destroyed, friends abandoning him and virtually falling fast to the lowest of lows rock bottom. With nowhere to go Billy looks for someone to get him back on his feet and finds him in the form of retired fighter Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker) who now manages and trains one of the toughest gyms but only works with amateur boxers only. But seeing something in Billy’s sincerity, Tick decides to train Billy with a new guidance and a new focused tenacity that Billy clearly had lacked before. And now with Ticks direction we see the possibility that Billy will struggle to get back at the top again by battling pass the one person who has been his biggest source of failure; himself. In the end it is Billy’s goal he can win back the love and trust of those he has let down in his past by recommitting himself to the one things he knows best and that is to fight.
PROS: Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favorite actors of his generation and he puts everything into this film both emotionally and physically as it is clear he has shaped his body to both perfect the movements of a professional fighter as well as get his body physically rock hard to round out the overall look. Also, Forest Whitaker predictably brings instant gravitas to any character his portrays and does not disappoint here in his role as the avuncular “Boxer Whisperer” trainer Tick Willis. And finally, while not a specific skill, I could not help notice that Rachel McAdams is fine as hell; but I digress.
CONS: “Southpaw” tries to be both “Rocky” and another older boxing film called “The Champ” that starred John Voight and a very, very young Ricky Schroeder. But this is where the films similarities end, as under the vision of Director Fuqua, while the boxing scenes were lively and realistic the overall structure of the film is mostly corny, riddle with clichés’ and seems not to take the time to try develop Billy beyond being a one dimensional figure. Both Fuqua and the screenplay throughout the film struggles to make Billy and his story seem earnest enough to appreciate if he truly deserved a chance for redemption. Ultimately, I didn’t really care if Billy got his act together mostly because he was by and large a bit of Neanderthal knuckle head who doesn’t endear the audience for any sympathy to his plight. Again, it’s not Gyllenhaal’s fault, the problem is mostly with the film itself with its “paint the colors by numbers” approach and feel and with a screenplay that just seemed to be at times not very sophisticated. It was literally like watching someone broadcast each scene aloud to the viewing audience shouting out ……”we’re getting ready to do this now in the movie”.
CONCLUSION: “Southpaw” is about unbridled anger manager and ego, and this film is steep in both, especially as to what happens when someone relies solely on those qualities one too many times. Gyllenhaal and McAdams for the first 15 minutes of the movie make that narrative of the film initially work and for a while I believed “Southpaw” film offered up some real promise it would be a bit better than it was advertised and reviewed. But by the first 30 minutes of this 2 hour effort I found myself chuckling at scenes that simply were not designed to be funny, largely because they were poorly developed, not believable and essentially not very well execute.
I take my hat off to the 3 big stars of this film as they carry this effort about as far as they possibly could with the many limitations embedded in the written material they had to work with. And while I know some will find this film genuinely entertaining, for me it was like watching a great Olympian (AKA Gyllenhaal) trying to keep the fateful cruise liner Titanic from sinking by swimming with a chain wrapped around both the propeller of the ship and the other end of the chain tied to the swimmers ankle. You applaud and appreciate the herculean effort but obviously it's to no one’s avail.