Southpaw (2015)

Posted by Joel Copling on July 24, 2015

"Southpaw" is a classic case of excellent performances in the service of material that sadly does not deserve them. Kurt Sutter's screenplay hinges on more than one instance of manipulation of the wrong-headed sort, and director Antoine Fuqua's heavy hand unfortunately doesn't help. That doesn't entirely discount a handful of strong moments, but the whole sadly does not equal the parts. The film only operates on two storytelling mechanisms--both rather conventional--and they merge into disconnected schmaltz by a middling middle section that never quite focuses on what it should. It's a shame, too, again because of these performances.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in a very good performance as Billy Hope, current heavyweight champion on an undefeated streak. His wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), whom he calls "Mo," is his handler of sorts while his manager Jordan Mains (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) takes care of the financial and marketing side of things. Billy and Maureen have a daughter, too, the bespectacled Leila (Oona Laurence). After the pretty brutal fight that opens the movie and establishes Billy as a forced to be reckoned with in the ring, the inciting incident of the narrative happens; I won't give it away, but it's pretty openly manipulative stuff, and the movie only fully explores one side of the consequences.

That side, of course, is Billy's, but one gets the feeling that the heart of it lies within Leila's continued story instead; she's a kid having to become accustomed with unthinkable loss. Instead, we get the tired formula of Billy's downward spiral, which seems less like a sudden onset of depression and more like mere irresponsibility. It makes sense, then, that young Leila's custody is in question after an intoxicated car crash under the influence with a loaded weapon present. It isn't very convincing, or at least it is less so than when Billy must secure a job and seeks out Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker, perhaps the film's highlight), a local trainer who doesn't quite take to Billy's attitude.

The goal is an upcoming match between Billy and Miguel "Magic" Escobar (Miguel Gomez) who had a hand in the tragedy that befell Billy and Leila (You've likely now figured this out through the lack of mentioning another character with them; sometimes spoilers are hard to duck around). It's a shame that the entirety of "Southpaw" leads to this, because there could have been worthier sources of inspiration from which to draw. The climactic fight is technically proficient and scored well to a new original track by rap musician Eminem, but it's still a dramatically static conclusion. At least the performances are so strong, as they nearly pull "Southpaw" through its own muddied tracks; it doesn't quite succeed, but it's not for a lack of trying perhaps too hard.

Film Information

Jake Gyllenhaal (Billy Hope), Forest Whitaker (Tick Wills), Oona Laurence (Leila Hope), Rachel McAdams (Maureen Hope), Curtis "50 Cent" (Jordan Mains), Skylan Brooks (Hoppy), Naomie Harris (Angela Rivera), Victor Ortiz (Ramone), Beau Knapp (Jon Jon), Miguel Gomez (Miguel "Magic" Escobar).

Directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Kurt Sutter.

Rated R (language throughout, violence).

123 minutes.

Released on July 24, 2015.