Cary, NC — Southpaw tells the story of Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), a champion boxer who must start his life over after a family tragedy.
The film has all the promise of a classic redemption story, but, despite another great performance by Gyllenhaal, director Antione Fuqua (Training Day) and writer Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) fail to give the audience any real reason to care about Hope and his daughter, making way for an emotionally empty movie going experience.
Jake is Great As Usual
Longtime readers of CaryCitizen, and of my movie reviews, know how big a fan I am of Jake Gyllenhaal. I really believe he is one of the most talented and underrated actors of his generation. From Brokeback Mountain to Prisoners to Source Code, and to his criminally under seen role in Nightcrawler, the guy always commits 100%.
What I find even more fascinating is how he builds his performances with details – little things like an eye twitch or his vocal patterns. I find him to be immensely watchable, and his performance in Southpaw is no different. His character isn’t the smartest guy in the room, but he can take a punch like no one else, and his left hook is killer.
If you think that sounds like another famous left-handed cinematic boxer, well, you wouldn’t be wrong. But Gyllenhaal really goes for broke here. Besides a complete physical transformation, he plays his character with the up-most intensity, rarely letting up.
Intense to a Fault
The problem, though, is that the writer and director never give Gyllenhaal’s character, or the audience, a break from that intensity, and it actually becomes exhausting.
I like that the filmmakers are trying to give us a dirty, grimy story. Sometimes life is hard, and sometimes it feels like it’s too much. I just think that they go a little too far with it, making us feel depressed for the character rather than hopeful.
A lot of that could be forgiven, though, if we had more of a chance to care about these characters. There are plenty of moments in the movie that are intended to make us get to know and like them, but it feels more like we are being told to care about these people rather than being shown why they are worth caring about.
It’s a fine line for sure, but it’s one the filmmakers can’t quite walk.
Southpaw is not a bad film by any means. Again, I love the work Gyllenhaal does, and, in the end, I found myself rooting for him in the climatic fight for redemption. But I think a lot of that has to do with a winning formula than with the actual film itself.
Fuqua and Sutter try their hardest to make an uplifting sports story, but they go just a little too dark and are never really able to land that feeling of hope and inspiration that a good sports movie needs. Therefore, it pains me to say, skip Southpaw.