Southpaw, directed by Antoine Fugua is an emotionally charged film. Sadly, it’s also a film that never really lives up to its potential. With some rushed structuring, and some noticeably lacking development of certain integral characters, there are clear issues in a film that… at its core, still has something worthwhile in it.
The story of Southpaw follows professional boxer Billy Hope, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who after the tragic shooting of his wife, played by Rachael McAdams, goes into a deep spiral, one which causes the loss of everything he cares for and worked hard for. Hope must lift himself back up from the gutter and reclaim not only the man he was, but also get his daughter back before she ends up in the same harmful foster system that he was brought up in.
Jake Gyllenhaal is an actor who has for the past few years hasn’t missed a beat, Southpaw continues that streak. With films like Nightcrawler and Prisoners, Gyllenhaal is an actor who puts his all into a performances, Southpaw absolutely reinforces this fact. Without a doubt, Gyllenhaal’s performance for Billy Hope is the stand out part of the film; he truly becomes the character, the dedication and believability in his portrayal of a professional lightweight boxer is faultless. The pain he brings to each scene, the transformation he put his body through, everything comes together to once again give a stellar performance from Mr Gyllenhaal.
Where he is perhaps let down is the weak supporting cast of characters. Acting wise, everyone delivers. Forest Whitaker, Rachael McAdams, even 50 Cent (yes I was surprised to see him appear in the film as well) does a decent enough job with what he is given. The point where things fall apart is when you realise that no character, apart from Gyllenhaal’s of course, has any proper amount of development. There are hints of it with in each character. Forest Whitaker’s character, Tick Wills, has maybe two short scenes that are supposed to give us the base line for who he is, but it never really feels like enough. Rachael McAdams character plays an integral role in the setting up of the plot, and while the relationship between her and Billy Hope is sufficiently set up, it never gets the full treatment that it needs.
Perhaps the most egregious over sight in the film is how it completely ignores the main antagonist of the film, Miguel Escobar, played by Miguel Gomez. The character plays a huge part in causing the events which send Billy Hope on his downward spiral, yet once that has happened the film just forgets about him. Apart from some quick scenes where we see him winning fights on a TV screen, he more or less disappears from the film. This ultimately harms the final big fight of the film where Billy Hope and Miguel Escobar will finally have their big face off. With you knowing nothing of who the man is that Hope is fighting, it means that the fight doesn’t have the same amount of emotion or weight as it would if we knew it least something of importance when the antagonist is concerned.
Perhaps the cause of such little character development can be traced back to the rushed and at times wonky plotting/structure of the film. The first act of Southpaw is great, everything is set up well, we get a good feel for where the characters are in the story, and when the emotionally crushing moment occurs and Hope’s life changes forever, it really feels heart breaking. It’s soon after this, around the time the second act gets moving along that things begin to fall apart. Characters are forgotten about, parts of the story are glossed over and it soon becomes a selection of training montages and forced conflict. When things get to the end, with the final big bout, it just doesn’t feel as impactful. It’s a shame because there are some genuinely powerful moments in Southpaw (helped a lot by Gyllenhaal of course) but not everything comes together, and the important pieces start to fall off, and soon things become a bit of a rushed, underdeveloped mess.
Side note, whoever did the music for this film completely missed the tone. Like, altogether the music was out of place and bad. Blasting an Eminem song during a training sequence is just distracting and a little cringey.
What in the end I found baffling about Southpaw, was that despite its issues, I still liked the film. At its core there is something still good about it. Whether its Gyllenhaal’s ability to effortlessly command a screen or it’s the emotional filled scenes that keep you engrossed. In the end there is something very watchable with Southpaw.
Even though there are some major problems with Southpaw, I’m still going to recommend it. In the end I was happy with my time with the film, like I said, there’s something within it that makes it worth watching.
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