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Southpaw Review

Kalem Lalonde's picture
I was one of the people who had almost no knowledge of Southpaw’s plot before stepping into the theatre. (After watching it last night) I can say with full confidence that Southpaw’s trailer spoils the entire movie, showing you main events in a linear structure rather than teasing the film. Ironically however, I don’t think this would damage the experience of “Southpaw” all that much. Some films are carried by an excellent script or visionary direction but (as expected) “Southpaw” is not carried by its predictable script but by Jake Gyllenhaal’s, powerful, damaged and intense performance as Billy Hope. The performances in this film are what made this brooding, dark and sometimes superficial film, better than what could’ve been an extremely insipid one.

“Southpaw” opens with the peak of Billy Hope’s life, establishing his aggressive fighting style, blissful family life and affluence. The break of his career is set-up when his wife Maureen, played by the lovely Rachel McAdams, asks him to put the gloves down for a while, to recuperate from getting “hit too many times”. However, this is not what ends his life’s stability. In the face of a great tragedy, Billy Hope’s life spins out of control, into a cycle of anger, turmoil and grief.

At this point in the film, director Antoine Fuqua had a strong foundation to build a great story with depth and power but he fails to bring that to the screen. The psychological decline of a human being is an interesting and compelling conflict. Watching Billy Hope lose everything that mattered to him, while almost losing himself could have been powerful. With the evident dedication of leading man Jake Gyllenhaal, I think it’s sad that Billy Hope’s arc felt conventional and superficial.

Throughout the majority of his fall, I kept thinking, “Is this too much?” I felt as though Billy was being beat down in every way possible, making the film feel too grim for its own good. So much time is spent finding ways to tear Billy down that we never truly get to observe his psychological evolution. Fuqua is more concerned with beating you over the head with the films tragedies than showing their deeper effects on the characters.

Gyllenhaal displays Hope’s vulnerability and anger to perfection but I feel as though the Oscar nomination is off the table due to the scripts flaws. If we could’ve spent more time inside the mind of Billy Hope rather than watching him lash out, Gyllenhaal would’ve had a shot. The range of emotion is too limited for Gyllenhaal to branch his performance out, but that isn’t to say he isn’t excellent. Gyllenhaal carries the weight of this movies mediocrity on his shoulders and raises it to a more than unenjoyable level.

However, he isn’t the only standout member of the cast. Forest Whitaker brings his charisma and likeability to his role as Tick, Hope’s new trainer. Whitaker stood out as being the only light in this dark flick, injecting it with much needed humour. He and Gyllenhaal brought fun and strong chemistry to the film despite also lacking a bit of depth. The two characters bond over the clunky story of one of their trainees lives that underwhelmed in bringing layers to their relationship.   

On the surface, there might be a vision of an impactful and deep film but once you dive into “Southpaw”, there’s an unfortunate realization that you’ve seen it all before and done with more stability and intelligence. The antagonist appears in a scarce amount of scenes, to call upon Hope’s fragile temper and ego for no better reason than to piss him off. Hope’s friends appear in scenes to reach out to him for them only to be pushed away. 50 Cents’ character comes off as a boring and one dimensional manager who walks on screen when convenient to the plot.

The biggest lack of depth is the most damaging one as Leila Hope, Billy’s daughter, brought the film down quite a bit. Oona Laurence brings this superficial and erratic role to life very well. Despite the problems with the character herself, Laurence gave the one of strongest child performance since Pierce Gagnon in “Looper”. The script is at its worst when portraying Leila who jumps from hatred to love in seconds without any explanation. Writer Kurt Sutter didn’t show any understanding of the mind of a child with his script. Leila would be repeatedly shouting “I hate you” to her father only to be holding hands with him in her next scene. Sutter tried to make this character more than a plot device and failed, making her one of the weakest links in the film.

When it comes to Antoine Fuqua’s direction of “Southpaw”, there is a definite mix of good and bad. Fuqua interprets conversations with close-ups, capturing the characters faces and not much else. This works in certain scenes and doesn’t in others. It’s effective at portraying the intensity in some moments and becomes a tad awkward in others. His fight sequences are sharp and quickly edited, bringing intensity to the moments that needed it. Besides the performances, this movie was at its best with the tense moments that Fuqua skillfully directed.

Ultimately, “Southpaw” is a film that depends on the intensity of its scenes to make you forget their lack of originality. It’s the clichéd story of a broken man that finds his redemption in sports while spending about half its runtime before starting to raise Billy Hope back to the top. The former half, feels more like it’s trying to incessantly beat Billy down rather than observe his psychological decline. When something goes wrong, everything has to consequently fall apart and instead of making its tragedies feels genuine, they feel forced and underserved. There was depth to be found in this film but unfortunately, beyond the performances, Antoine Fuqua couldn’t hold a tight grip on anything more than superficial.  

Score: 6/10