Southpaw is too buried in boxing movie clichés to work. Jake Gyllenhaal is miscast.
My Rating: [usr 2] C
Southpaw, directed by Antoine Fuqua, borrows from almost every boxing movie cliché out there. The story of a cocky boxer with a good heart, Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), fails to bring anything new to the genre that we haven’t seen before. Much of the film, though well made, is telegraphed from beginning to end.
Just read this plot synopsis from The Weinstein Company:
Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a punch-drunk boxer who rose from a New York City orphanage to light heavyweight champion. After his latest successful title defense, in which Billy is injured, his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) urges him to think about quitting while he’s still at the height of his fame and has his health. After being taunted into a brawl by an upstart boxer, tragedy strikes when Maureen is killed by an unknown gunman during the melee. Billy spirals into self-destructive behavior, losing his title, his fortune and custody of his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) in quick succession. After reaching bottom, Billy seeks the help of Titus “Tick” Wills (Forest Whitaker), who trains young boxers at an inner-city gym. Tick agrees to take on Billy and gives him a job as a janitor, cleaning up the gym every night after training. Slowly the two men learn to trust each other, and Billy begins a journey toward accepting his wife’s death, reclaiming his daughter from social services and finding glory in the ring again.
There we have it. Almost as if Southpaw was borrowing from a Rocky movie, Rachel McAdams character gets it. This has been revealed in previews and trailers, so don’t come after me like I’m blowing the lid off this movie.
So, the idea behind Southpaw is that we’re supposed to recognize our main protagonist is flawed, but a good man deep down inside who’s lost everything and just wants to be with his daughter. Billy Hope is portrayed as having somewhat of a street background. It should be noted that this role was originally written for Eminem, and as good an actor as Jake Gyllenhaal is, he’s miscast in this film. I didn’t, for one minute, buy Gyllenhaal in this role, nor believe his background story.
Perhaps, it’s just the way Gyllenhaal and director Fuqua decided to approach the role. I’ll give credit to Gyllenhaal for looking the part, and clearly giving his all, but Gyllenhaal and Eminem are almost nothing alike. The idea that Gyllenhaal could just replace Eminem’s dialogue was not smart and lazy. Writer Kurt Sutter clearly wasn’t looking to break the mold of a boxing picture, so it’s important the lead role was properly cast and they didn’t take care of that.
The supporting performances, on the other hand, are largely well done. Forest Whitaker, who’s had one of the worst post-Academy Award (2006 for The Last King of Scotland) winning careers ever, actually does a coherent job here and delivers a solid performance. His role, like all of the roles in the script, is entirely cliché, but Whitaker injects some life and authenticity clearly missing from Gyllenhaal’s performance. I haven’t been a fan of Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s acting, but here he’s very well cast as a boxing promoter who’s revealed to be somewhat of a swindler. Rachel McAdams is fine in what largely amounts to a cameo role.
Despite the fact the film is relatively well made and has two really good performances, Southpaw is too far deep in clichés to properly work. When you add this with the fact the main protagonist is pretty badly miscast, it doesn’t make for particularly thrilling cinema. Southpaw is not even a good boxing film, let alone film.