Southpaw (2015)
Southpaw (2015)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 3 min.

Release Date: July 24th, 2015 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Antoine Fuqua Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, 50 Cent, Skylan Brooks, Naomie Harris, Beau Knapp, Victor Ortiz

 


 

I

t begins as if a pugilist procedural, with the camera snooping around the little details of wrapping hands, applying ointments, and lacing up gloves, before transitioning into an actual boxing bout. The music transitions too, revealing that director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “Shooter,” “The Equalizer”) has more in mind than just the excitement and violence of the sport. Artistry is applied through slow-motion shots, extreme close-ups, and other cinematographic editing, as well as mesmerizing expressions that foreshadow the emotional complications that typically plague movie athletes.

At the Madison Square Gardens arena, undefeated light heavyweight champion Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) secures yet another victory to stand at a sensational 43-0. It’s a great success story, as Billy’s humble origins involve an underdog upbringing at a Hell’s Kitchen orphanage and the acquisition of a new, loving family with his childhood sweetheart Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and their young daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). But the brutal sport takes its toll on all of them, with Maureen hoping to pull her husband away from potential long-term physical and mental damage, while Billy can only think about maintaining his fame, fortune, and formidableness.

Billy is a rather conventional movie boxer, fit in physicality and quick with temper, trying ungovernably to hold onto an ideal of masculinity as every win puts him a step closer to defeat at the hands of brain damage or vision loss – or his wife’s distaste for seeing her lover’s face beaten to a bloody pulp. It’s also not uncommon to venture into the tribulations of harmonizing with normalcy, especially as Billy’s prime wanes, his money dwindles, and his interests are unable to gravitate away from the comfort of his profession. To twist up the plot and initiate Hope’s gritty downward spiral, Maureen is accidently killed at a charity event, during which longtime rival Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) provokes a fracas. Billy’s distress lends to significant mistakes that find his daughter removed from his care, his belongings repossessed, and his career ignominiously destroyed.

While the flimsy plot is essentially a boxing movie hiding behind familial drama, instead of the other way around (like in “Rocky” or “Raging Bull,” which “Southpaw” could only hope to emulate), the acting is utterly sensational. Gyllenhaal exhibits an intensity that comes along so rarely in film (Laurence is impressive as well), saving the entire project from the basicness of its extreme rise-and-fall formula and giving the emotional moments extra juice and the fight sequences greater vivacity. He has again undergone a transformation (having previously, drastically changed his appearance in “Nightcrawler” [2014]), along with a different, now erratic, intemperate, and angry disposition, to contrast the few tender scenes with his child. Though there may be nothing original about this picture (Hope, of course, pursues an inevitable, strenuous redemption, aided by convenient trainer/mentor Wills, played by Forest Whitaker), the monumental acting wholly saves “Southpaw” from its own routineness.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10