Since I’ve started this site, I’ve written a lot of reviews. In case you missed some of my earlier ones, I would like to share an older review of “Southpaw” which originally appeared here.
Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the current light middleweight boxing champion and he is on top of the world. He has an impressive, undefeated career, a loving wife and daughter, and an expensive lifestyle. He then goes on a downward spiral when his reign is challenged by a young, up-and-coming boxer Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar (Miguel Gomez). Billy soon hits rock bottom following the loss of his life and family, losing his manager Jordan Mains (Curtis 50 Cent Jackson), and financial problems occur causing him to lose his house. In his search for redemption, he finds Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker), a trainer who trains amateur boxers and also a former boxer. Hope is trying to change his former ways and resurrect his career in order to prove himself to his daughter and the world.
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that this is a redemption story (I kind of did above). In this case, it is more of the paint-by-numbers variety. It just goes through the checklist one item at a time. But you quickly forget all of this when the film puts you through an emotional roller coaster. It does a good job at making you feel what the characters are feeling, from their highs to their lows. What helps this is the performances of Gyllenhaal’s Billy and Rachel McAdams who plays his wife Maureen. The chemistry the two have are strong which elevates their emotional scenes. Gyllenhaal’s transformation is remarkable, bulking up and adding layers of weight and muscle to his own frame and this degree of commitment to his roles is something that no too many actors have. This is commendable but where he excels is how he portrays Billy’s inner demons and how he goes from being full of rage and is able to control his rage and use it productively as motivation to fix himself for the people he loves. Whitaker is also strong here providing a solid performance portraying a multi-dimensional character with some darkness to him but also as someone who cares and very sympathetic. Did I mention this film was predictable? I expected this coming in but I still somewhat enjoyed the journey. I would have appreciated a little more originality when it came to the story as it is riddled with cliches and nuanced characters such as his wife (McAdams’ Maureen), his manager (50 Cent’s Jordan) and his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) who occasionally came off as a little annoying. I would like to take this moment to commend the film’s cinematography and score. The boxing sequences were well done in that the camera shots made you feel like you were part of the action. The score really helped in elevating the dramatic sequences in the film. Despite being a little formulaic, the film is saved by the performances of the two leads and by the direction and production values.