Monday, 17 August 2015
FILM REVIEW: SOUTHPAW
In spite of the tendency for melodrama in Kurt Sutter's screenplay, and the inherent cliches in any boxing film, Antoine Fuqua's Southpaw manages to be an engaging bout -- due in no small part to Jake Gyllenhaal's bulked-up performance -- if not a TKO.
Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope (as in, The Great White), a middle-heavyweight boxer whom we meet on the night of his biggest win. His wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), a childhood sweetheart who, like Billy, came up through the foster care system, thinks it's time he hung up the gloves and enjoy the spoils of his victories. And given his post-fight state -- a swollen face, blood dribbling from his mouth -- it's easy to see why.
His manager, Jordan Mains (Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson), however, wants at least another three fights -- and a multi-million dollar pay-for-view contract -- out of his man, including a bout with the world champ, Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez).
But events conspire to bring Billy to his knees and financially undone. They also see his bright young daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence), removed from his custody and into foster care. Billy needs to win her back but he needs to be a winner again first. Thus Southpaw becomes a story of both redemption and a comeback, as Billy takes a job as night janitor in a downtown gym operated by trainer, Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), a no-nonsense guy who doesn't tolerate swearing or self pity.
Of course, where Southpaw goes from here is never in doubt. That we care about that outcome is in great part to Gyllenhaal's performance of this broken man who wants only to be with his daughter and knows only one way to get what he wants in life: to fight for it. It's another impressive performance by Gyllenhaal, the physical transformation as startling and extreme as the one which saw him lose weight to creepily embody a sociopath in Nightcrawler (2014).
Billy's relationships with both Tick and Leila make the cliches at work in Fuqua's film bearable (the film having lost much of its energy when McAdams departs), and thankfully Southpaw isn't all dour and downbeat; there's some much needed humour in Billy and Tick's to-and-fro, including an excellent gag about Whitaker's infamous eye. (Naomie Harris is there, too, as Leila's sympathetic case worker but sadly she's not given nearly enough to do.)
Southpaw doesn't bring anything to the ring that you haven't seen before: it's a scrapper not a contender.