Okay, let’s just go ahead and get this part out of the way. ‘Southpaw’ is formulaic. It is a boxing movie that quite clearly follows the tropes of other boxing movies. It’s about a guy who gets knocked down and has to fight his way back to the top. It’s also about a guy who loses his daughter to the system and he has to fight to get her back. Which is also a bit of a formula and follows some predictable beats along the way.
However, despite this predictability, and some Hollywood cliches, I think most people are really going to like this movie. You may know where it’s going, but watching Jake Gyllenhaal get there is what makes this movie work. His performance is an absolute knockout and his character will linger in your head long after the credits roll. That’s not to say that he plays some wonderful guy with a winning personality. Far from it. It’s to say that this character is another in a line of characters that Gyllenhaal has just disappeared into.
In fact, the biggest story everyone has been talking about with this movie has been the fact that this might finally be the one that proves he is just as good a method actor as any working today. I don’t know what’s taken everybody so long, but I’m glad that it’s being talked about. After transformative performances in ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Nightcrawler’, you would think people would just expect greatness every time this brilliant performer steps on the screen. Well, maybe they will now.
In ‘Southpaw’, Gyllenhaal plays a boxer named Billy Hope. Hope is the world champion in his division and seems to have everything he could ever want. The most important thing in his life is his relationship with his wife Maureen (a wonderful Rachel McAdams). Maureen is everything to Billy. She handles his decisions, cares for him, and is a great mother to their daughter. It is the relationship between these two characters that is really at the heart of this film.
The first trailer for this film gives away everything that happens in this movie, but I’m not going to do that. There is a very powerful moment in the middle of this movie that the trailer undermines, but you should experience free from prior knowledge of you can. What I can say is that some poor decisions lead Billy down a road that loses him the championship and his daughter. So, he has to fight to get her back.
This is where Forrest Whitaker enters the story as a poor trainer who knows how to make Billy an even better fighter. There are some weird things about Whitaker’s character in this movie that go unexplained, but mostly he is quite good in a one dimensional role. Credit must be given to director Antoine Fuqua for managing to transcend some of the weaker parts of the script with good acting.
A number of people asked me, after I saw the movie, if the fight scenes were good. I’d argue that they aren’t any better or worse than any other. It’s Gyllenhaal’s performance in the ring that is most compelling. Although, the final battle in the film is certainly satisfying. It honestly left me in tears. Which is why I have to recommend this film. The whole affair might be a tad too predictable, but the powerful nature of the proceedings make it worth watching.
On Blu-ray™, DVD and On Demand Oct. 27th.