D: Antoine Fuqua. DP: Mauro Fiore. W: Kurt Sutter. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal/Rachel McAdams/Forest Whitaker/Oona Laurence/50 Cent/Naomie Harris/Victor Ortiz/Miguel Gomez.
Written by the creator of the FX series Sons of Anarchy, Kurt Sutter’s scripted Southpaw chronicles Billy Hope (blatant pun) whose supportive wife is tragically killed and he must put his life back together in order to gain custody of his daughter. All this was revealed in most theatrical trailers so there is not much surprise here.
It is difficult not to compare Southpaw with other successful boxing films. From Oscar winning performances in 2010’s The Fighter to 2004’s Million Dollar Baby to the entire Rocky franchise, there are plenty to choose from. Plus all the other films who’ve unsuccessfully punched their way through this sport. It is admirable to attempt to do something new here, melodrama be dammed. Yet Southpaw falls short because it simply feels like other films out there.
That being said hands down I loved Rachel McAdams as Maureen or Mo, Billy’s long life and love. From her fake nails to her lace up heals she has the sex and sass I wish I had seen more of from say Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year. Not on screen for long she makes enough of an impression for Billy’s, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, agony and heartache at the loss of her to feel genuine. Following a ‘fall from grace’ and ‘underdog rebound’ three act structure, Southpaw undulates with effort to highlight Gyllenhaal’s impressive boxing physique. It is simply not enough. His physicality is surely on point, but the meat of who Billy is dies with his wife and without her he lacks depth. His scenes with his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) are probably his best. I wonder after Foxcatcher if Channing Tatum would have been the more believable choice? At least Eminem was not in it as planned.
Lastly, despite it’s predictability the boxing scenes are fabulously filmed and although not shot in Madison Square Garden or Vegas, deftly disguised. Yet much like Billy’s original offensive boxing strategy you can see the film’s choices from miles away. If not that then you can at least see 50 cent’s fedora trying to add character to his stereotypical friend whose in it for the money. I’m not going to even bother mentioning Forest Whitaker.