Powerful performances and an emotional story.
Reigning undefeated light heavyweight boxing champion Billy Hope’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) life comes crumbling down around him when he loses his wife senselessly in a tragic accident. He must turn to trainer Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker) for help and guidance to get back on track, so that he may not only return to the boxing stage but also so he can regain his daughter from child protective services.
The trailers for Southpaw are pretty terrible, and I think that opinion is pretty unanimous among movie goers. It showcases a majority of the narrative’s plot arc and is cheesy in its desperate ploy to appeal to a large range of viewers rather than the niche audience it is made for. And a trailer that lacks clarity tells me that the film it is marketing is without intent or a clear vision. Regardless, looking past the nonsense, there was something about the film that intrigued me enough to give it a chance.
Though the film is about fighting, it more about grief, loss and redemption. The circumstances and tragedy surrounding the loss of Billy Hope’s wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) is well created to make the blow devastating. The character development is rich so that you know Maureen is Billy’s everything, and you feel the pain in your heart, down to your soul. This hurt never subsides for the main character or the audience through the duration of the film and is the driving force behind the narrative.
It is an amazingly smart decision to choose Rachel McAdams to play the protagonist’s wife. McAdams is inherently likable to audiences but is a stellar actress, and her performance is that of an athlete’s wife. Her Maureen is not selfless or perfect, she is invested and cares for her man and his livelihood. And her performance for the short time her character is on screen is enough to sustain the rest of the film.
Jake Gyllenhaal has proven himself a phenomenal actor in recent years for those who were skeptical of his earlier work. We have always known he is a talent and Southpaw might be his crowning achievement as of yet, though that seems to be said every year. He is transformative without even a glimmer of himself left lurking in his eyes and he truly loses himself in Billy Hope. The character is a bit of a stereotype, with cliches peppered in his backstory, but Gyllenhaal’s creation of the character transcends far beyond those limiting incidentals.
You can’t talk about performances in his film without mentioning the talented actress who plays Gyllenhaal’s daughter, Oona Laurence. I don’t know how or from where this girl draws this complex hurt she is able to convey on screen, but without her this film would not be nearly as stellar as it is in its completion.
As a film about boxing, it goes well beyond the glitz and awe people imagine when they see the ring under the lights. Southpaw shows the family life, the pain, the hurt, the healing, the reality, and the humanity. The cinematography contributes to that, putting you in the ring so you almost feel the blood splash on your face as fighters pummel one another.
I don’t quite get the other critics stating this film is dull and lumbering, it is decisive in its vision and shows storytelling at its purest.