I will watch anything with Jake Gyllenhaal in, because I’ve learnt by now that everything he touches is gold. Throw in a bloody-faced boxer and a bit of gunfire and you really have my attention. Indeed, ‘Southpaw’ has had my attention for months now, ever since I saw that first trailer. Beware the trailer though; thin is the line between tease and spoil. It was only as we took our seats in the theatre that the realisation dawned – we had already seen the film, in essence, through the revealing trailer. Never again will I watch a trailer.
Light heavyweight champion of the world, Billy ‘The Great’ Hope (Gyllenhaal) is one of those boxers who needs a good hit (or eight) before he can unleash his winning attack. When he narrowly beats an opponent he was much fancied to drop with ease, Billy’s wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), pleads with him to stop fighting and focus on their family. Billy is ready to leave the ring for good, but when tragedy strikes, he loses everything and Billy must prove himself worthy of winning it all back.
Jake Gyllenhaal undergoes a mad transformation to become the ripped, thuggish Billy Hope. It’s hard to think of a bad performance from Gyllenhaal’s fantastic repertoire, and whilst this role isn’t quite up there with Donnie Darko or Lou Bloom, the main man still delivers an impressive mix of aggression and emotion. One problem though, a lot of the time his boxer’s drawl is rather incoherent. As is Forest Whitaker as trainer Tick Wills. Whitaker is however, very likeable and at times adds a little wry humour. Young Oona Laurence, who plays Billy’s troubled daughter Leila, did a good job portraying a sense of resentment and trauma. [SPOILER ALERT] Rachel McAdams’ involvement is sadly a short lived one, but her memory burns through the narrative and allows Gyllenhaal to excel. Why Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson was allowed such an extensive role is infuriatingly clear, another one of those pretend actors who gets a job because of his celebrity status, while the pool of untested actors out there continue to tread water.
If you have seen that tell all trailer, you will be expecting an intense film, underpinned by a powerful soundtrack. That is exactly what you get, and then some. Plenty of times during the film, I was impressed by the near-perfect shot composition which added to the intensity and dramatic tone. Whilst the storyline may not be totally original, it was interesting, emphatic and uncomfortably authentic. Depending on what you want or expect from the film, you may be disappointed to know that the boxing aspect does not dominate the narrative, which is much more focussed on the dismantling of Billy Hope’s life. That said, the fight scenes are not all that convincing anyway, with the punches being thrown far too quickly to appear genuine. By the time the final fight comes around however, you won’t care anymore; you’ll just be rooting for the reformed hero to deliver the happy ending we all want.
So if you’re pining for a modern day ‘Rocky’, I suggest waiting until the release of ‘Creed’. This is much more than a testosterone-fuelled boxing flick. This is a film full of drama, tragedy and truly heart-breaking moments. More than once, I was on the precipice of tears. Despite the apparent masculine appeal, ‘Southpaw’ has no gender specific demographic – my partner really enjoyed it – and is a film I will be highly recommending to anyone who will listen.
Director: Antonine Fuqua
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, Rachel McAdams