DIRECTOR: Antoine Fuqua6185_4600

CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Victor Ortiz, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Miguel Gomez, Oona Laurence, Beau Knapp, Rita Ora, Clare Foley

RUNNING TIME: 123 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: When a tragic incident triggers a series of destructive events, boxer Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) must work his way back up to the top if he is to overcome everything…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Fun fact of the day: Southpaw was originally intended to be a starring vehicle for Eminem, the first of its kind since 2002’s 8 Mile. From the sheer ferocity and harsh grittiness found in the script and in Antoine Fuqua’s direction, you can certainly see what initially attracted the rapper to it, but it also leaves you slightly worried about his perception of a grounded reality as depicted in film (and his well-documented personal history certainly adds fuel to these worries).

The completed version of Southpaw, which sees Jake Gyllenhaal step into the role intended for Slim Shady, is certainly a rough experience to watch, and although there are certainly strong qualities to this film there are also just as many things about it that ultimately add up to an unbalanced film.

Gyllenhaal is Billy “The Great” Hope, a boxer at the top of his game and living a luxurious lifestyle with his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and young daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). However, a spat with fellow boxer Miguel (Miguel Gomez) results in Maureen’s death, leading Billy to go down a spiral of depression that eventually sees him lose his championship, his home and, most crucially, his daughter who is placed in social care. The only way back up top is to, well, get back up on top, and seeks low-key boxing trainer Titus “Tick” Wills (Forest Whitaker) to help him regain his skills and hopefully reunite him with his remaining family.

You might think that the last paragraph was pretty spoiler-heavy, especially with the little note that McAdams’ character actually dies early on – but don’t worry, it can’t be spoiled because it was in the trailer. And that’s part of the problem; what should have been an earth-shattering surprise that could only be experienced in the film was ruined by the film’s promotional material, and anyone who goes to see the film after seeing the trailer will find themselves simply counting down the minutes until it happens instead of actually caring about what happens prior to it, destroying any suspense that the film has up to that point, and even beyond. Like Terminator Genisys, there’s a lot in this movie that could have very easily been left under wraps until opening day, but for whatever reason they couldn’t wait to reveal everything they could about it and that has resulted in a tension-free sitting where you’re just waiting for the events to happen.

Not only that, but there’s a lot of clichéd tropes lying throughout the film that drag the film down further. There seems to be elements of some of the most famous boxing movies lying about that the movie simply recycles to create something far more conventional than was probably intended – the training montages from the Rocky movies, the close-up intensity from Raging Bull, the naturalistic dialogue scenes from The Fighter, and the scene of family members/friends watching the climactic fight on a TV that’s from almost every sports movie ever made. It’s not that the clichés are outright terrible or even executed badly, but because we’ve seen these tropes so many times in other movies everything in this one becomes instantly predictable, to a point where you could even play a version of genre bingo whilst watching it. Originality, in Southpaw’s case, certainly isn’t its strongest suit.

Fuqua, after experiencing similar problems with his previous film The Equalizer, proves that he is in desperate need of an editor, because this film has some serious pacing issues. Certain scenes go on for what feels like an eternity when they could have easily just been a few seconds long; it’s like Fuqua was such a huge fan of being in this environment that he felt the need to have the audience experience every single solitary second of it as much as possible. However, scenes which could be summed up in just a few sentences go on for about five minutes, and eventually you’re screaming internally something along the lines of “Oh my God, just get to the point already!” instead of being invested in what’s going on.

However, if there is one thing that completely saves the movie from being just another standard boxing movie, it’s the performances of the actors. Gyllenhaal is absolutely fantastic here, endlessly watchable and extremely dedicated to giving it his all, and that’s not even beginning to talk about his bulked-up physique here (which, considering he beefed up right after losing all that weight for last year’s Nightcrawler, is an extraordinary achievement in its own right). Whitaker is also very strong here, giving what might be his best performance in years (though after Taken 3, anything is considered a step-up), and while McAdams might not be on-screen for long, she’s still competent at delivering something deeper than what could have easily been a stock supportive wife character. But it’s Gyllenhaal’s show all the way – there’s something about his physicality and naturalism that is incredibly intimidating and also extremely comforting all at once, and no other actor working today comes to mind who can convincingly shuffle back and forth from one completely different role to another within the same year. Billy Hope is light years away from the likes of Lou Bloom, but he still creates just as powerful a presence as his Nightcrawler persona.

It’s things like this that prevent us from disliking Southpaw; but by God, we wish the rest of the film could catch up to it.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Southpaw benefits from a truly excellent performance from a highly dedicated Jake Gyllenhaal, but the film falters due to the lack of suspense (as ruined by the spoiler-heavy promotional material), endless boxing movie clichés, and pacing issues that prevent it from becoming anything other than another boxing movie with a great lead actor headlining it.