BELIEVE IN HOPE. Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw stars Jake Gyllenhaal and looks like an overly dramatic sports flick. I’m in.
I very much enjoyed Southpaw, but I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t essentially just a raw re-imagining of various moments from the Rocky series. Boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) was once on top of the world, but the tragic loss of his wife (Rachel McAdams), a forced separation from his daughter, and his financial ruin have pushed him all the way back to square one. Now it’s time to get back to the basics with a tough new trainer (Forest Whitaker) so that he can reclaim what has been taken from him. Some of that, unless you haven’t seen a Rocky film, should sound fairly familiar, and it shouldn’t require much effort to guess which path Southpaw travels down and where it ultimately ends up. The film is, and the pun is totally intended here, a full-on telegraphed punch. Thankfully though, the lack of originality doesn’t keep it from being an entertaining movie. Director Antoine Fuqua seems to be a legit boxing fan, and his treatment of the sport (the training, the actual fights) gives the film an underlying stream of enthusiasm. Then there’s Gyllenhaal, who clearly poured his all into the mumbly, punch drunk Hope, and his performance in and out of the ring is transfixing. In other words, while the film doesn’t do anything new, it seems to have largely been made by people who clearly love their characters, the story of Billy Hope’s redemption and the actual sport of boxing. I can appreciate that.
If you’re a sports fan, I think you’ll really like the drama and energy that’s packed into Southpaw. If you’re not, you may still find it entertaining, but I wouldn’t expect to be blown away.
PS – Forest Whitaker is such a great actor that he could have put on a bad wig and also played 50 Cent’s part, and it would have been 200% better than 50 Cent’s flat as hell performance. Just saying.
Jake Gyllenhaal has now more than redeemed himself for doing Prince of Persia.