Weekly Review: Southpaw (2015)

After the sudden, tragic death of his wife, Billy Hope has to fight to put his life back together, rebuild his relationship with his daughter, and get back in the ring to restore his reputation.

Southpaw is the newest film from director Antoine Fuqua. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Forest Whitaker. Also featured in the film are Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, and Curtis “50 cent” Jackson. The film also features original music by James Horner, one of his films to be released after his death last year.

I consider myself to be a pretty big fan of Antoine Fuqua. His films have a particular style and feel to them, and Southpaw is no different. Interestingly enough, Southpaw was originally supposed to star Eminem as the main character and be a metaphor for his life, similar to 8 Mile. Eminem decided to postpone the project to focus on his music, and the main role was given to Jake Gyllenhaal.

The story behind Southpaw is pretty compelling. I reviewed Creed a few weeks ago, and I would probably say that Southpaw is pretty close with that film in terms of entertainment value. It’s hard for me to really decipher which film I would recommend more between the two. Southpaw has a lot going for it. There’s a redemption arc, somewhat of a coming of age type story. It’s a father-daughter centered relationship. It has the training montages that are expected in films about boxing. There’s a sense of revenge around the main conflict. It just has a lot going for it.

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On top of that, the performances are pretty great. While Rachel McAdams isn’t in the film for very long, her parts definitely stand out. This is a pretty good thing because her character has a lasting effect on the main character and is a driving force for the story. Jake Gyllenhaal is really good too. I’ve been impressed with a lot of his recent work, especially Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal definitely gets into his roles, and Southpaw is no exception. I was pleasantly surprised to see his portrayal of Billy Hope in this film. Also, Whitaker is great as usual. The performances from Gyllenhaal and Whitaker really carry the film.

My biggest complaint about Southpaw would probably concern the cinematography and continuity during the first quarter or so of the film. The camera work is really shaky, and I understand why this was thought to be a good idea, but I thought it was a bit much. One of the parts that really sticks out to me is a scene between Gyllenhaal and McAdams in the bedroom. There really was no need for this dialogue scene to be handheld camera, but it was, and it was very distracting. This wasn’t helped by the camera angles either. A lot of the cuts seemed like jump cuts because the shots were so similar. On top of that, the continuity was pretty bad. McAdams’ movement was all across the board. In one shot, she’d be sitting, then in the next shot she’d be on her knees, then she’d be sitting again. It was really off to me.

Throughout the rest of the film, this really isn’t a problem. The camera work becomes much more controlled. The edits, continuity, and cinematography flow much more smoothly. There are even some interesting handheld POV shots in the final fight.

Reviews of Southpaw are generally average to positive. While people are pointing out the many cliches that surround the plot, they do applaud Gyllenhaal’s dedication to his role for the most part. Peter Howell from the Toronto Star said it “isn’t great cinema, but it’s satisfying movie-making, with nothing more on its mind than telling a heart tugging story,” and I would have to agree. It does a good job of keeping the viewer entertained, but it is predictable and doesn’t really cover much new ground. I’ve seen some reviews compare the film to Raging Bull. I’ve never seen Raging Bull so I can’t comment on that.

Overall, if you’re a fan of movies centered around boxers with redemption arcs, this might be a movie for you. I enjoyed it for what it was. I thought it was entertaining. Check out the trailer below to see if it’s something you might like!

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