From what I hear, the more jabs to the head, the merrier!
Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) faced all sorts of adversity over the years to make himself one of the best boxers in the profession today, and still be able to come home to his beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams) and kid (Oona Laurence). However, all of that changes when tragedy strikes and Billy is practically left to fend for himself. Due to all of the blows he’s taken to the head, not only is he a punch-drunk, fumbling mess, but he’s also lost all sorts of control over his emotions, which puts him in a lot of legal trouble. This all eventually leads to his house, car, money, and worst of all, kid get taken away in hopes that he can change his act for the good. Problem is, the only way Billy can get back on top, is through boxing – a sport he has been told, time and time again, that “he should retire from before it’s too late”. Still though, Billy sees his fight against the current champ, Ramone (Victor Ortiz), as his comeback one, regardless of what the nay-sayers may spout on about. To get back in shape, Billy enlists the help of Titus “Tick” Wills (Forest Whitaker), a trainer who only helps out younger boxers, and nobody else. However, in Billy’s case, Tick is willing to make an exception.
That is, if Billy changes his act a whole bunch.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that if you’ve seen one boxing movie, you’ve practically seen them all. Of course, there are the noble exceptions to the rule (Raging Bull), but for the most part, each and every movie that concerns with the sport of boxing, plays out like another take on Rocky. Underdog has dreams; underdog faces adversity; underdog faces set-back; underdog gets back on his feet; underdog sets out to defeat the champ. It’s all been said and done before, many, many times and you know what?
Southpaw isn’t going to change that formula.
Thankfully though, it’s the kind of movie that’s lucky to benefit from a talented cast who, despite having to deal with a very over-dramatic and sometimes corny script from the wild and wacky mind of Kurt Sutter, make better because they’ve come ready to play. Case in point, Jake Gyllenhaal who, believe it or not, is actually taking up a role written for Eminem. While I would have definitely liked to see how that played out, in hindsight, I’m still glad that the second person to get the call was Gyllenhaal, cause not only is he proving himself to be one of the better actors we’ve got around working today, but he’s able to throw himself into any role where it doesn’t matter who was supposed to be in it originally, or not. Gyllenhaal’s going to make you believe it should have been him all along and that’s why he works wonders with Billy Hope – the most conventional character he’s had to work with since Bubble Boy.
Which I know sounds terrible, but it actually isn’t; Gyllenhaal’s more talented as an actor now, than he ever was before, and it’s great to see him sink his teeth deep into what could have been a total paycheck gig. Though it most definitely is the kind of role that’s paying for Gyllenhaal’s pad in Malibu, he still gives it his all, showing the sadness and sometimes, vulnerability to this character of Billy Hope. He’s conventionally written in that he’s an underdog who brought himself from nothing, to something, only to have to do it all over again, but Gyllenhaal takes it some steps further, by showing that this character really needs to box for his life.
Because without it, what is he?
Just another average Joe, working a 9-to-5, having to come home to a wife, two kids, dog, and white picket fence? Or, is he a guy that has to constantly wade through the thick, the thin and do what he can to provide love and support for those he cares for the most? The movie itself seems to lean more towards the latter, but Gyllenhaal, even despite the fact that he got himself all jacked-up and scary for this role, constantly makes you wonder where his mind is heading toward and thinking of the most.
And of course, Forest Whitaker’s great as Billy’s trainer, as well is Rachel McAdams as Billy’s wife, but the reason why I’ve high-lighted Gyllenhaal’s performance so much is because he’s clearly the heart and soul of this movie, and proves to be the best part of it when all is said and done. Sure, Southpaw is entertaining in that it features plenty of boxing, running, training, cursing, and rap music, but at the same time, it’s a little too hard to take seriously at times, even if it so desperately pleads and begs you to do otherwise.
You can, once again, chalk that up to the fact that Kurt Sutter is here writing this thing, but you can also add on the fact that Antoine Fuqua directed this and even though he’s had some good movies in his past, he’s no master of subtlety, that’s for sure. Every time it seems like Billy’s going to lose his shit and break something in his way, have no fear, because he will. Heck, every time that you think Whitaker’s character is going to have something inspirational to say to give Billy more hope, don’t worry, because he definitely does. It’s not much of a problem because Whitaker and Gyllenhaal are both pros at what they do and share incredible chemistry with one another, but after awhile, it’s get to be a bit disappointing when you know that they’re working with mediocre material.
Granted, you should always take a movie for what it is, and not what it could have been, but in this case, I’m making the exception. Whereas, on paper, with the premise and cast involved, Southpaw could have been a huge, hot and heavy Oscar-contender (like it was originally planned to be), with the likes of Sutter and Fuqua combined, their brand of unsubtle melodrama takes over everything and has it play out a bit more soap-opera-y. It’s what we’ve got, so I shouldn’t complain too much, but man, imagine what it could have been with some other people involved. Like, I don’t know, say, Marty Scorsese?
Yep, that sounds like a perfect idea. Somebody call him up next time.
Consensus: With Gyllenhaal in the lead role, Southpaw turns out to be a lot better, but can get so over-the-top and silly at times, that it takes away any sort of momentum that it can sometimes build for itself.
7 / 10