Monday, July 27

Southpaw Review

Dir: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence, 50 Cent, and Forest Whitaker 
123 Minutes
The Weinstein Company

Everyone wants to see a knockout. Unfortunately as professional boxing provided earlier this year with the much-maligned Floyd Mayweather Jr./Manny Pacquiao match, billed as the “fight of the century”, boxing can be a tedious experience. Call the style measured, technical, or defensive, but boxing is ultimately a battle of rounds, twelve to be exact with most of the risks taken in the early and late rounds. Antoine Fuqua, director of “Training Day”, steps into the ring with a story about a fallen champion boxer fighting for redemption.  Sound familiar? Much of this film will feel the same, which is the unfortunate problem with “Southpaw”. 

Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the reigning Junior Middleweight Boxing Champion. Often bloody and infuriated in the ring, Billy is a brawler, a walking punching bag who has somehow attained an undefeated record. Billy lives in his a lavish mansion with his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and daughter Leila (Oona Laurence), accompanied by his childhood crew and promoting manager Jordan Mains (50 Cent). Maureen wants Billy to stop fighting, but Billy doesn’t know much outside of the ring. At a charity event the up-and-coming contender challenges Billy, which leads to an altercation with tragic consequences. Billy loses everything, including his daughter; the only way to redeem his life and heal himself is to return to the ring.

Antoine Fuqua is a capable director, adding a style and flair to scenes that make the viewer feel like punches are being thrown right at them while also building tension and anticipation during the more action packed scenes. Unfortunately it seems like Fuqua only knows two speeds here, swift and sluggish. Or perhaps more relevant two punches, the haymaker and the jab. The film is constantly going for knockout blow. Emotionally the film is many times wrung dry, though there are a few moments that resonate effective, specifically scenes between Billy and his wife. When the film isn’t power punching it’s moving at a lethargic pace, which becomes monotonous because the main character is difficult to invest any compassion in. Billy Hope feels like the bully in school who pushed and punched hard enough to make people let him do whatever he wanted. This character design makes it difficult to root for Billy’s return. Will he have learned the error of his ways and change? It’s difficult to say.

“Southpaw” treads on every “Rocky” motif, from the training segments, to the unsavory promoters, the forced emotional punches, and the wise and weary trainer, though Forest Whitaker is quite good in the role. What saves the film from an early technical knockout is the performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, who transforms physically into boxing shape while emotionally being guarded one moment and unrestrained with anger in other moments. This performance works for much of the time, it's only when the narrative heavy-handedly forces dramatic scenarios into the film when things begin to stumble.

"Southpaw" functions like a boxing match, a few narrative punches land while some don't, at times the film is paced to make it twelve rounds while other times it's poised to punch itself tired. Gyllenhaal puts on an impressive show assisted by Forest Whitaker, but the performances can't hold up the tiresome and formulaic narrative which unfortunately results in "Southpaw", despite some of the heart it displays, being trapped in the corner waiting for the final bell to ring.

Monte's Rating
3.00 out of 5.00

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