Not quite the knockout you’d expect.
Antoine Fuqua‘s SOUTHPAW (2015) began with an intensely unhurried intro of Jake Gyllenhaal’s “Billy Hope,” sweaty and bloodied portrait roaring into the camera. His appearance is herculean, fearsome, and most certainly a far cry from his otherwise thinly-framed, psychopath persona “Louis Bloom” in Nightcrawler (2014). Billy Hope has it all, a beautiful wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and daughter (Oona Laurence), a huge home–all of which he loses in the first half-hour of the film, sending our hero into descent.
Eventually, his manager (Curtis Jackson) abandons him to manage boxer Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gómez), a one-dimensional rival archetype. His daughter, Leila, due to Hope’s erratic behaviors, is taken away by social services and ends up in a group home. Now the with the courts involved, and with nowhere to go, Billy seeks out Tick Willis, former pro trainer, and gym owner. Eventually, Billy manages to atone for his misdeeds and win back custody of his daughter. In between the intense training and brutal boxing matches, the film loses much of its poignancy during the actual filmmaking process. The story too often deviates to include valueless subplots. There are one too many court appearances, one too many meetings with Lelia’s social worker, and one too many conversations with Tick outside of the gym. These overly weepy, melodramatic fillers are more distracting than beneficial to the overall story.
Southpaw, is a movie about boxing, obviously. Ultimately, there is the one fight that will allow Billy to win it all back. He wins, of course–no need for a spoiler alert. However, what makes Hope’s journey enjoyable are in those critical moments while training in Tick’s gym, where the true beating heart of the film is. Where the socially marginalized–or those who are pending resurgence–navigate the dimly lit spaces between punching bags and the boxing ring, to punch, pummel, divide and conquer. Tick’s provides these young men a necessary distraction, and an opportunity to succeed.
Gyllenhaal’s performance is flawless as the reigning Junior Middleweight Champion Billy Hope and is worth the ticket price if you want to see just how Gyllenhaal successfully transformed himself both physically and mentally for the role. Regardless of Gyllenhaal’s superbly intense character performance–the narrative’s extremely cliched, predictable, melodramatic redundancies isn’t worth the lengthy 2-hours of screentime.
Art and supplementary materials courtesy ©2015 of The Weinstein Company. All rights are reserved.