By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Southpaw has everything one would expect from a boxing movie and that’s pretty much it. That is not to say that director Antone Fuqua and writer Kurt Sutter have made a bad movie, but if one has seen all of the Rocky movies, Raging Bull, and many others, then all the story and character elements will feel very familiar. Fuqua and Sutter do bring a stripped down, darker style to their film and go for stark realism and grit. Still, after all is said and done, it still feels like a recap of other superior films.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Billy Hope, a successful professional boxer who has achieved that success from the ability to sustain constant beatings. These beatings eventually take a toll and it soon becomes apparent that his body and head cannot handle much more. At the behest of his loving wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), Billy decides to retire so that he can live long enough to grow old with her and watch their daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) grow up. When tragedy strikes and Maureen is shot dead, Billy grows despondent and lost. When faced with the chance of losing custody of his daughter due to bad behavior, Billy decides to fight again, but needs the help of a better trainer like Tick Wills (Forest Whittaker) to become a champion.
The story and screenplay by Sutter has some adept writing when it comes to some of the dialogue and lines delivered by the cast, but the story and character development embraces all of the usual cliches audiences have already seen in other boxing films. Overall, the film is still enjoyable, but mainly this is due to the skillful direction by Fuqua and the exceptional performances by the cast. I won’t deny that I felt all the strong emotional beats as I watched the movie, but in hindsight I feel a tad cheated, because they have already been explored prior to this film.
Gyllenhaal and Whittaker deliver awards-worthy performances and really add to the emotional gravity of the movie. I fell for a lot of these dramatic and emotional moments, mainly because these outstanding actors made it all feel real. Had it not been for their work in this movie, I probably would be rating it a little bit lower and probably discouraging my readers from spending too much money to see it theatrically. These champions of acting really bring it and make this film highly watchable.
I am also rather impressed with young Oona Laurence, who not only portrays a child forced to grow up a little, but shows real maturity in her acting as well. Rachel McAdams is always a joy to behold on the big screen and her no-nonsense, but loving character gives audiences a glimpse of what she can do. Its a shame her character doesn’t get that much screen time, though. Actress Naomi Harris offers solid work as social worker Angela Rivera, but also doesn’t get that much screen time either. 50 Cent delivers a credible performance as boxing promoter Jordan Mains, but the screenplay doesn’t really give him much to do.
Thankfully, the electrifying acting of Gyllenhaal and Whittaker really add to what is otherwise another run-of-the-mill boxing movie. My recommendation is either to catch this movie as a matinee, rent it later, or watch it on pay television. While I did enjoy the film overall, I cannot honestly recommend spending top dollar to see a movie that almost feels like a carbon copy of others that have preceded it.