Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services.
Coming off successful TV series The Shield and Sons of Anarchy, writer Kurt Sutter transitions to the big screen with the new film Southpaw directed by Antoine Fuqua. A few years back Fuqua delivered the surprisingly enjoyable Die Hard-type film Olympus has Fallen, which actually trumped Die Hard’s own return to screens in the same year.
Story-wise there’s going to be a lot about Southpaw that seems pretty familiar, following a boxer on the comeback trail looking for redemption. Filled with drama both in and out of the ring, Southpaw treads a well-trodden path as lead character Billy falls from grace to learn some humility and integrity as he struggles through adversity to salvage what he can and rebuild his life.
The opening half of the film spends a significant amount of effort in bringing down Billy from where he starts, and eventually it come at its own detriment with some sluggish pacing that is prone to dwelling too long on the hardships of its central character, to the point where things start to become repetitive.
The slow pacing continues even after the turning point of the film as the journey back from rock bottom begins. The final act of the film however becomes increasingly more energetic and engaging, and overall delivers a fairly well crafted underdog story leading up to a thrilling climax.
One of the highlights of the film is the depiction of the fights, which are fascinating to watch. Fuqua manages to articulate some of the more intricate and artful elements of boxing in terms of style and strategy as opposed to merely a raw competition of power. One of the underlying themes is not only the fact that Billy Hope is a fighter, but it’s the kind of fighter he is, and then evolves into – and how this reflects on him.
The biggest highlight of Southpaw though is Jake Gyllenhaal, the entire film rests comfortable on the shoulders of his performance and he carries it through turning it into something greater than what it probably deserves to be. His transformation into this character is brilliant, his commitment to the role is undeniable and award worthy without a doubt.
Between this and his performance in Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal has well showcased his acting diversity, and he’s positioned himself as someone to really watch out for in both his choice of roles (having withdrawn from the mainstream blockbuster circuit for now), and his delivery of them. While having less to do Rachel McAdams is sound in her role, as are Oona Laurence and Forest Whitaker who in particular displays some great onscreen chemistry with Gyllenhaal.
Overall Southpaw doesn’t really push any boundaries or put much of a spin on the classic underdog story, however what it does do is deliver on this story quite effectively. It’s paced a bit slowly early on but ultimately you leave far more invigorated by the closing act, then feeling flat form the opening act, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance couldn’t be better.
I’m giving it 7 out of 10 stars, Southpaw is currently in cinemas around Australia.