Though eminently deserving, the Academy passed him over for 2013’s “Prisoners”. Then it pulled a repeat performance for 2014’s “Nightcrawler”. Fingers white-knuckle crossed they step up come springtime and make all right with the world at last.
Interestingly, I’m finding myself with not much to say about “Southpaw” except, “See it.”
It’s a familiar tale with little new elements to offer (indeed, it pulls several straight from “Rocky III”), and it uses an unnecessary subplot contrivance to accomplish a certain circumstance regarding Forest Whitaker’s character, but all is forgivable in the face of the film’s undeniable heart and an exceptional performance from Gyllenhaal. McAdams and Whitaker back him up with perfect chemistry, and there’s a lot to be said where naming a character “Hope” doesn’t land as being intolerably Nicholas Sparks cheesy.
The aforementioned arguable lapses notwithstanding, “Southpaw” weaves in several absolutely beautiful portrayals, specifically the strong egalitarian balance between Hope and his wife, more impressively a depiction of child and family services performed and utilized as intended, and most impressively, the respectful treatment of a youngster as an autonomous individual with wishes to be respected, rather than an extension of the parent, a mouth to feed, or a situation to be managed. Additionally, the events leading to our hero’s circumstances involve some cold truths, and not only does the film not justify them, but it actually faces them as unflinchingly as Billy Hopes take a punch to the eye.
Here’s hoping that the Academy finally gets it together – Gyllenhaal has certainly earned it in any case. His having taken his body so far down for “Nightcrawler” and up to such heights for “Southpaw” is truly remarkable, and this performance justifies any and all awards to be had. Word has it that Harvey Weinstein is resolutely committed to campaigning hard for his win, an encouraging sign indeed. (It actually occurred to me it would be fun to see Billy Hope go to town on Lou Bloom – just a little bit. ;) )
Across the board, “Southpaw” earns its place among the great sports stories of cinema, and while it may not have the lingering power of a titan like “Warrior” or its own shadow, “Raging Bull”, its edgy heart beats with the enduring pulse of “Rudy”, “Without Limits”, and Rocky Balboa himself.
BONUS: Hey Houstonians, Forest Whitaker is having a banner summer. His delightful production “Dope” is still playing at AMC theaters around town, and makes an excellent double-feature with “Southpaw”. Entirely different content, but corresponding themes and both with a clear-eyed yet uplifting vibe.
Story: A modern and compelling iteration of a familiar tale, in this case a champion boxer who strives to rebuild after losing all.
Genre: Drama, Character Study
Themes: Loss, Love and Attachment, Loyalty, Man vs. Himself, Man vs. Man, Maturity, Prudence, Restoration, Self-Control, Trauma, Vengeance, Willingness
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, 50 Cent, Naomie Harris, Miguel Gomez, Beau Knapp
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Running time: 123 min
Houston release date: July 24, 2015
Tickets: Check IMDb.com or your local listings
Screened July 20, 2015 at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX