SOUTHPAW With Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. Directed by Antoine Fuqua; scripted by Kurt Sutter. 123 min. Rated R (for profanity, bloody shooting, bruising ring action)
I really wanted “Southpaw” to be great and left the theater telling myself “Yeah, I liked it.. It was alright”. No, it really wasn’t, and I was lying to myself in an effort to get around the bottom line: the movie sucked. As a fight writer and huge fan of the sport, anytime a boxing film comes out I want it to be great. But as is often the case, however, the film will be so marred with traditional clichés that it waters down the Kool-Aid I was hoping to drink.
Where do we begin?
Let’s start by telling you that Jake Gyllenhaal (who plays unbeaten, light heavyweight champion Billy Hope) really isn’t a “Southpaw” at all, and that the actual reference to the famed style in the film is dubious at best. Eminem was initially slated to play this role — which would’ve made sense considering he produced the scorching soundtrack and would’ve been opposite 50 Cent as his crooked manager, but he changed his mind at the last minute.
Perhaps he saw all the holes in Kurt Sutter’s script and was nervous about the directorial vision of Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day” was awhile ago bruh). More than the wasted talents of Rachel McAdams (brilliant in her limited appearance before being gunned down) and Forest Whitaker (such a truly great actor who couldn’t deliver an inspired performance), the talented Gyllenhaal’s performance is what really hampered the production.
It felt like the entire set was emotionally committed to Eminem in the role of Billy – including Gyllenhaal, who turned in a head-rubbing, depressed impersonation of the famed Detroit rapper in front of the cameras. He never made you believe he was anything more than a limited club fighter, as opposed to a 43-0 legend with an incredibly fabulous wife and lifestyle.
I can’t get over the shooting death of wife Maureen at the post fight conference, where miraculously, no one was apprehended or charged with a crime. We’re forced to ask ourselves why Billy can’t see how obviously greasy 50’s character is, or exactly why he’s still sporting the same post fight wounds and concussed state well after his last fight.
Then, the popcorn starts tasting really salty, when we watch the film devolve into the nothingness of typical despair and destitution surrounding a fighter and the redemption we all know is coming. All of which made it really hard to attach emotionally to the tension between Billy and his 10 year-old daughter Laila (played by rising star Oona Laurence, the film’s true gem).
The cinematography and fight choreography is absolutely stellar, and adding an HBO worthy fight production (complete with Jim Lampley and Roy Jones Jr.) also added punch. But all too often this film felt like an overstuffed and unfinished idea with resulting uninspiring performances that you can wait to see on Netflix. Though it tried, this movie will not remind you of the southpaw “Rocky” or any of its characters.
And that’s the problem with this film- it tried to.