Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent, Naomie Harris
Release Date: July 24th 2015 (UK)
In spite of it becoming more and more of a niche event, Boxing, more than any other sport, lends itself so well to drama. One winner, one loser. One warrior’s fight for redemption. The inherent violence is also a huge factor because, let’s face it, punching your problems away makes for some great visuals. Sports were never really my thing, but some of my favourite films are about boxing (Body and Soul & Fat City are severely underrated). Southpaw, unfortunately, doesn’t fall into that prestigious pantheon.
Billy “The Great” Hope (ugh), is your typical pugilist that you want to root for: a tough, but sweet family man who bleeds a lot in the ring. The more damage he takes, the harder he fights. Flying high after winning his latest title bout, a rival fighter’s crew shoots and kills Billy’s wife (shut up, it’s in the trailer). He slips into a downward spiral of depression and quickly loses his money, his house, and custody of his daughter. He builds himself back up with the help of a veteran trainer, leading up to a Vegas match with Miguel Escobar, the rival fighter from before.
Gyllenhaal really brings it, despite the fact that his character is a mumbly tough guy palooka stereotype with corny-ass tattoos.* He really comes off like he’s lived this sort of hard-knock life. His character is pretty simplistic, but at least there’s a palpable sense of primal-ness in his performance. It’s a shame that none of the other characters pop out, even with the top-notch cast provided. Why the hell was Rachel McAdams even in this film? Her character’s job is to look pretty, be supportive and unceremoniously die so that her man can have some motivational pain and time to brood. She is nothing more than a plot device (She’s on the poster and she’s barely in the movie!). Forrest Whitaker plays the typical grizzled boxing trainer you’ve seen a million times before. Fifty Cent is in here too for some reason. Nobody’s personality goes any further than “cliche.”
Anyone who has seen Sons Of Anarchy knows that Kurt Sutter is probably the least subtle writer in Hollywood,** but at least the show had some semblance of unpredictability. Here, you can see where the story is going miles ahead, which makes the film rather dull. There were parts that were eye-roll inducing like Billy having a classic cry in the shower or having his daughter cry out “It’s your fault mommy’s dead!” (or something along those lines). The antagonist, Escobar, is also the least fleshed out character in the film. His role simply entails that he play the heel and get punched by Billy in the beginning and end. I didn’t even realise that the climax was the climax until the movie finished. Nothing really led up to this supposedly long-brewing grudge match (besides a few training montages). It just didn’t hold any weight or feel earned.
This film wasted the talents of a great group of actors and could have been really interesting if the filmmakers allowed everyone else besides Jake to add a bit of nuance. But, hey, at least the fights looked pretty cool.
*I’m the proud owner of some corny-ass tattoos myself, but I hold my fictional characters to an aspirational ideal. I can’t have the hero of the story looking tacky.
**Seriously…Billy’s tattoos are: “Father,” “Fighter,” and “Fear No Man.” Deep.