By Gary Murray
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams and Forest Whitaker
Written by Kurt Sutter
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Running time 123 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Cable
Jake Gyllenhaal is an intense actor. Some of his roles have been Zodiac, Source Code and Broke Back Mountain. He always delivers an interesting performance, even when the film is less than high concept. In his latest film Southpaw, he makes a transformation into a boxing champion.
The film starts with a boxing match and Jake as Billy Hope—the great white hope, get it!—is a man at the top of his game. He has a giant house, a beautiful wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and a sweet young daughter (Oona Lawrence). Being the champ means having others trying to take a shot at the title.
One night at a gala, a tragedy happens and someone dies. This shakes Billy to the core and within a blink he loses everything. One begins to wonder—didn’t Billy have any insurance to protect himself. Eventually his daughter is taken away from him. Billy is a destroyed man with nothing.
Then we see the build-up back into the ring. Billy begins to train with Tick (Forest Whitaker) a man who does not train professional boxers, just kids who have no fathers. Tick decides to break Billy down in order to build him up. The film manufactures to a comeback fight for millions.
This film seems to be made for only one reason, to get Jake the Oscar. This is the first long-shot volley at that golden statue. He was nominated for Broke Back Mountain but the Oscar on his mantle has eluded his tender grasp. This feels more like an over-reach to land an award and he’s trying too hard to get it. There are scenes where he over emotes, grunting his lines. It is Method to a high degree.
Southpaw is directed by Antoine Fuqua (Shooter and King Arthur). While he captures some of the boxing scenes with certain flair, the director misses with the human relationships. One never believes the relationship between Dad and daughter, Dad and Mom and Dad and his fighting team. None of it feels real.
One of the most disappointing aspects of Southpaw is the lack of Rachel McAdams. She is given star billing but has a scant few scenes in the work. One wants to see much more of her and she is sorely missed.
Southpaw is a weak film with a strong performance. Antoine Fuqua thought they were making Rocky and they were really making something less. In Rocky, our hero loses the fight but wins back his love and his life. Here, Billy has everything, loses everything but wins back just about everything. As a narrative, it makes little sense. It would have made more narrative sense if he would have lost the fight but won his daughter. That should have been the point of the film.