A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Directed By: Antoine Fuqua
Produced By: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch
Written By: Kurt Sutter
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachael McAdams
Running Time: 123 Minutes
I checked iMDB one afternoon about six months ago and was immediately stunned by what greeted me. I had recently seen Jake Gyllenhaal transform himself into a skinny, slimy, snake-like, unscrupulous news cameraman named Louis Bloom. The thoughts that circulated in my mind afterwards were related to Gyllenhaal’s Oscar-worthy performance in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, but when it came to the nominations, it was a travesty to not see his name on the list for Best Actor.
“Never Fear”, I told myself after seeing a frightening image of a beefed-up, bloodied and vicious Gyllenhaal (pictured below) from his follow-up feature Southpaw.
Like Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club or Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, roles that require body transformations are known to catch the eye of the Academy, so it’s only fitting that Gyllenhaal finally gets a look in, right?
Well, although the physical transformations are very impressive, that aspect does not define the performance. Gyllenhaal shines as lead Billy Hope, however it sadly still won’t get him an Oscar nomination.
A little girl named Oona Laurence on the other hand, now that’s a different story…
Antoine Fuqua’s follow up feature to last year’s Geriaction romp The Equalizer immediately appeared to be an improvement, possibly even a contender come award season. Starring the in-form Gyllenhaal, Rachael McAdams and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, Southpaw is a by-the-numbers, inspirational sporting picture about a down on his luck protagonist who must literally fight to save his family and most of all, himself.
A plot spoiled by the trailer (be advised to stay away), Southpaw’s story is semi-predictable at its core, however it’s peppered with some truly gut-wrenching emotion that keeps the audience focused and ready for the next narrative round.
Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) is an elite, successful boxer with the world at his feet. Aggressive, brutal and animalistic in the ring, Hope’s techniques and fighting style don’t reflect his attitudes at home, but as tension mounts and the pressure builds, in-ring tendencies begin to creep in and pepper Hope’s reasonably together lifestyle.
After tragedy strikes, Hope is left broken and incomplete as a man. He must then strive to win back his former glory, as well as the love and admiration of those closest to him by starting from the bottom and working his way to the top for a second time. In his corner, Tick Wills (Forrest Whitaker) offers mentorship and wisdom to Hope, altering his fighting style and outlook on current life in the process.
From an archetypal aspect, the characters are very predictable and plain, however through commendable performances, the conventional characters and arks are much easier to forgive and invest in.
As far as pacing is concerned, the beginning of Southpaw is energetic, engaging and introduces the character of Billy Hope in detail. What follows is a mismatched first act with a strange editing style that exhibits back-and-forth dialogue exchanges from almost every angle imaginable.
This is rather distracting considering the performances are the driving force of the story, not the choppy edits.
Furthermore, there appears to be an inconsistency issue with Hope’s facial makeup. His eyes (which for the most part appear battered, bruised and bloodied) alternate as the film chronologically unfolds which creates uncertainty and confusion for the viewer. Although continuity is a difficult art to master, there are no excuses in an industry-grade film such as this.
When an error is as loud and confronting as this, the audience engagement is affected significantly, which is a great shame.
A major quality of the film however, is the cinematography of the fight scenes. There is a blend of broadcast and cinematic footage, which assists the realistic aspects of the story very well, making the audience feel as if they were spectators sitting ringside. Although some editing appears rampant and superfluous, the quick cuts from within the ring are structured to give a sense of urgency and adrenaline, which works superbly.
As previously mentioned, the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachael McAdams and Forest Whitaker is excellent as they provide believable, well-rounded performances, however the most impressive performance from Southpaw is without a doubt Oona Laurence who plays Hope’s daughter Leila. One of the best child performances in a considerably long time (arguably since Tye Sheridan in 2012’s Mud), Laurence’s efforts as an emotionally driven only child are incredible, especially as she masterfully outshines her fellow leading cast members.
Although like Gyllenhaal, she may not receive the praise her performance deserves in the form of an award nomination, Laurence has sprung onto the scene and demonstrated that she has an exciting future ahead of her.
There are some surprising inclusions in the cast of Southpaw, most of whom seem interchangeable and not essential to the role. The character of Jordan Mains (50 Cent) is an archetypal money-hungry boxing manager whose ark is jarring and unfulfilled, whereas singer Rita Ora’s brief appearance as a junky mother seems off-putting and odd.
The modernised Eve Moneypenny, Naomi Harris impresses as Angela Rivera, a pivotal character in the grand scheme of things while central antagonist Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar (Miguel Gomez) is underdeveloped, poorly layered and as generic as one would fear with such a role.
Southpaw is an improvement for Fuqua and the performances from within are impressive for the most part. The physical transformation of Gyllenhaal is staggering, however his tendency to overact throughout the film ultimately take away from the impressiveness of the role. A successful career lies ahead for Oona Laurence on the other hand, which is something to genuinely look forward to.
Ultimately, Southpaw may not be a contender come awards season, however it’s a solid middleweight picture that demonstrates some commendable qualities that will be worked upon in its next few bouts.