SOUTHPAW (UK CERT: 15)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Music: James Horner
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker
REVIEW AUTHOR: Rob Stoakes
The sports genre of films is widely mocked for being formulaic. Team of scrappy underdogs, 2, 3, surly disgraced trainer, 3, 4, it’s so bad that even the parodies are in their own sub-genre. But other sports films are downright experimental next to movies about boxing. Quick quiz, which boxing drama am I talking about right now? A down-on-their-luck (white) boxer with anger management problems is in financial straits after a personal tragedy, and goes to a run-down gym ran by a bitter old man who could’ve been a great boxer himself if it weren’t for bad luck. The boxer needs to learn to be more defensive and calmer, slowly taking control of his life once more along the way, and it all culminates in a big fight in Vegas with the thuggish and wife-beating (not-white) reigning champion.
If you guessed Southpaw, then congratulations for seeing a boxing movie at some point in your life that wasn’t the first Rocky. As an entry in the genre, Southpaw doesn’t really do anything with this formula, and is filmed in a similar manner. Antoine Fuqua is yet to direct a film that was anything less or more than competent, with no real flourish or flair. To his credit, he manages to replicate a boxing match quite well, something other boxing films surprisingly stumble over, and the film doesn’t ever get boring, but there’s no real meat to the cinematography or score, lacking any stunning artistry or cringe worthy blunders.
The acting is the most interesting thing to talk about in this venture, because it proposes an interesting question; can one actor hold a whole film? Hoping to answer that with a yes is Jake Gyllenhaal, who runs away with this film. He’s recently been putting out some of the best work of his career right now, with awesome performances in Nightcrawler and this year’s Enemy, and he brings his all to the role of Billy Hope. Any other actor would struggle to make an audience sympathise with a ridiculously rich hyper-talented man who beats up a succession of poorer opponents for a living who isn’t Batman, but Gyllenhaal succeeds. We see just how much the weight of his crumbling life is breaking him, and it’s all through just his performance. He genuinely carries this film.
Not that it’s made any easier by his fellow cast members. Forest Whitaker and Oona Laurence put in mediocre performances of his stern trainer and heartbroken daughter respectively, and they’re barely in it. The rest of the cast? Well, dendrologists rejoice because we have a display of all different kinds of wood. Where do I even begin? Rachel McAdams seems to think a fatal gunshot wound as drably mundane. Miguel Gomez looks and acts like a bargain bin John Leguizamo from Romeo + Juliet. And then there’s…
… ok, I was prepared for 50 Cent to be terrible; I have played both of his awful video games, I know he’s not a good voice actor. But behind the microphone he’s John Hurt compared to him in front of the camera. His lips move but his teeth don’t, so he’s constantly mumbling with a “cool” half-grin half-grimace. I just wanted to slap him and shout “I’m not your bleeding dentist, close your fat gob when you’re not speaking!”
Overall, Southpaw is like a rugby team that has only one good player and makes sure that he’s playing every single set, and the football is always thrown to him first (author’s note; I don’t know what sports are). Jake Gyllenhaal’s fantastic performance is the only draw, which is both a blessing and a curse; his presence almost ruins the rest of the film by comparison. It’s never gets boring and doesn’t outright insult the viewer’s intelligence, making it a much better movie about boxing than Rocky V or Joe and Max, but it never goes beyond “functional”. It’s the margherita pizza of boxing drama; something that can be eaten harmlessly but containing no ample nutritional value. Maybe some more unique ingredients or a chef who really cared could make something delicious out of this. As it stands, Southpaw is never going to become a champion of the boxing genre.
|Acting/Vocal Performance||⭐ ⭐ ⭐|
|Special Effects/Cinematography||⭐ ⭐|
|Soundtrack||⭐ ⭐ 1/2|
|Script/Dialogue||⭐ ⭐ 1/2|
|TOTAL||⭐ ⭐ 1/2|