d – Antoine Fuqua
w – Kurt Sutter
ph – Mauro Fiore
pd – Derek R. Hill
m – James Horner
ed – John Refoua
cos – David C. Robinson
p – Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Antoine Fuqua, Alan Riche, Peter Riche, Steve Tisch, Jerry Ye
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, Naomie Harris, Rita Ora, 50 Cent, Clare Foley, Beau Knapp
Southpaw makes one feel as if they are in a shopping mall watching some guy shout at his kids. You examine the situation: Here's a man with difficulties of his own, who is projecting his problems onto his loved ones – because he is sure he can regulate them and is sure he can't regulate himself. The world has him conquered. The situation makes you feel dejected and uncomfortable because a) it’s none of your business and b) you’ve seen it countless times already.
Southpaw is one giant miscalculation. It is written and directed (by Kurt Sutter and Antoine Fuqua, respectively) in such a dull, impersonal manner that it enters paralysis. You’ve seen this movie a hundred times before, so you can ascertain every decision in advance. This is particularly frustrating in Southpaw’s case because every decision is so amiss that one would rather spend the rest of the film smacking the characters, assuming that you care about their fate. What we basically want is for them to stop pounding each other. That isn't the way you want your audience to feel during a boxing movie.
Billy Hope (yep, that’s his name), as the film opens, has recently received a champion belt. He’s ascended from rough conditions — sportscasters of the opening match reference twice that Billy and his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) were raised in Hell’s Kitchen orphanages — but now he’s happy. But disaster strikes, and Billy falls apart physically and emotionally, and he loses everything, from the house and the cars to guardianship of his adorable, bespectacled daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence, who’s fairly good in this). The only thing that can save him is if he can work hard under the unforgiving tutelage of his trainer, Tick (Forest Whitaker), and eventually get the chance to regain the belt by going the distance in a grudge match against a rival boxer now handled by Billy’s corrupt former manager Jordan (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson).
Billy is played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who works very hard here to a fault. His performance is so cavalier in its perception of its audience’s awareness that it becomes almost insulting. Mr Gyllenhaal is a wonderful actor but his best performances are when he allows his audience to find out what he’s contemplating (Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, End of Watch) instead of shoving it in our faces.
Mr Fuqua takes the same approach. Like all of his films, the violence in Southpaw is exaggerated. Billy’s face is pummeled so many times that it loses all intention. The character scenes are intercut with standard scenes from boxing movies: training, strategy, talking about moves, early fights. None of this stuff is remarkable.
A kind way to put is that maybe the film’s weakness is in its ambition, covering too much ground. Perhaps – I hate to say it – the boxing stuff in unnecessary. If the film focused on a father’s dedication to the love of his daughter and the criminal stuff involving Maureen’s character, the movie might have had some breathing room.