With the title of the movie being “Southpaw”, you would expect the main character to be a left handed fighter. Surprisingly, he is not. In fact, I didn’t notice a left handed fighter in the movie at all. The title making no sense is a problem, and a bigger one than you might think. The movie does something toward the very end that felt like it was only there to try to make some sense out of the title but that doesn’t work at all and is barely even noticeable.
In some ways, this movie is a totally clichéd boxing film. In more important ways though, it is not clichéd at all. For instance, rather than the typical trick of the movie trying to fool us into thinking that everything is fine and nothing bad could ever happen to these people, this movie sets the dark, foreboding tone early. The first act of the movie feels like the proverbial powder keg waiting to explode all over the successful lives of our main characters. When the bad thing does happen, it is even more impactful for having being built up the way that it was. There is, of course, the typical “chance for redemption” aspect of the story, but it makes perfect sense in the way this film unfolds.
Jake Gyllenhaal has the ability to immerse himself into a character like nobody else working today. I sometimes find it hard to remember the characters that Jake played simply because I always see the characters themselves instead of the actor. That is the ultimate compliment. This movie is no different. When Gyllenhaal is on the screen, I see Billy Hope. His slightly punchy performance in this film is phenomenal and Oscar worthy in my opinion.
If you’re looking for a fun movie experience, this film is not it. To say that it is depressing is an understatement. A really bad thing happens to the main character, followed by more bad things and more bad things. Just when you think it will get a little better, it doesn’t. The movie never lets up. The depressing tone mixed with the slow-burn nature of the story caused me to get a little bogged down about halfway through the film. It’s not boring exactly, just hard to stay into.
The characters are very important to this film. The Billy Hope character is very good. He is a good person and you want to see him succeed but he is so full of rage that it makes him totally self-destructive. The second most important character in the film, Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), an aging boxing trainer who tries to help Billy straighten up his life, falls far short of what I needed the character to be. Whitaker’s performance is very good. In fact, the performance is far better than the character itself. This was one of the problems that really hurt the film.
Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter) did a very good job directing this film. The boxing scenes in particular are very well shot. Nice wide shots show the action well and the sound editing is terrific. This is some of the best movie boxing I have ever seen. The ending is built up very well and is legitimately exciting.
There is a lot to like about this film, but I mostly saw it as a missed opportunity. All the components were here for what could have been a great film. The screenplay, the first written by Kurt Sutter, is what really let it down. It seemed confused, not sure where the real story of the film was. The real story is Billy Hope’s rage and his struggle to control it. The problem is, the screenplay gets too distracted with other, less important things, like beating us over the head with how depressing the story is. This is not a bad film at all. The acting is great and it could be Antione Fuqua’s best effort since Training Day. I just couldn’t help thinking about how much better it could have been. The Movie Man gives it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
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