First, let’s get this out of the way. SOUTHPAW isn’t reinventing the wheel when it comes to fight movies… or any movie for that matter. It has a rather predictable arc, especially if you have seen that incredibly spoiler-filled trailer that gives away a MAJOR plot point in the movie. However, due to Antoine Fuqua’s (TRAINING DAY) incredible direction and realistic fight choreography, combined with extraordinary performances by the all-star cast (especially the transformational turn by Jake Gyllenhaal), a soundtrack from Eminem, and Kurt Sutter’s (SONS OF ANARCHY) grounded-in-reality script, SOUTHPAW is a movie that will keep audiences entertained and cheering in their seats. I know I was!
Billy “The Great” Hope (Gyllenhaal) when from being a troubled orphan to an undefeated boxer at the top of his game. He can sell out arenas in Vegas, and regularly brings home millions in prize money. And on top of all of that, he has a loving home life, with a beautiful wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). But when tragedy strikes, causing Billy’s personal life to go up in flames, his boxing career takes a dive as well. Penniless and broken, Billy has to pick up the pieces of his shattered life and use his fighting prowess to win back the thing he holds most dear.
Of course, the main takeaway from this film isn’t the script; it is the amazing, body-altering performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal has been KILLING IT over the past few years, especially in such movies as ENEMY, PRISONERS, and NIGHTCRAWLER. In fact, it is because of this commanding performance that SOUTHPAW doesn’t devolve into your average clichéd boxing movie. His turn as Billy provides the heart and redemptive quality of the film. Gyllenhaal is able to effortlessly duck and weave through an array of emotions, from cocky, to hopelessness, and finally to determination. And it is this layered performance that provides the backbone of the film.
Forrest Whitaker is also great in his role as Tick Wills, a beleaguered boxing coach who decides to help Billy get back into fighting shape to reclaim his title. Despite the fact that his character is the stereotypical “mentor/Mr. Miyagi who uses his dilapidated gym to help the hero rediscover his fighting spirit”, Whitaker’s performance is far from average or unremarkable. Unsurprisingly, he is great, and provides the perfect scene partner for Gyllenhaal.
Like many other underdog fighting movies before it, SOUTHPAW is melodramatic and doesn’t tiptoe around clichés. However, thanks to the incredible performances, direction, and soundtrack, it is a sure bet for an entertaining movie experience. The fight choreography alone is worth the price of admission. I’m always interested in how they film those brutal scenes. It’s obvious that in a lot of scenes the actors were really taking punches. Blu-ray extra, please?
My Review: B