Raw, dramatic and gripping, ‘Southpaw’ released in 2015, may suffer from feeling a little too-familiar at points. Following an almost identical structure to many other boxing flicks like ‘Rocky’, ‘Warrior’ and ‘The Fighter’, in addition to featuring some fairly bland filmmaking. But through Jake Gyllenhaal’s powerhouse performance alongside the story’s strong grasp on realism, ‘Southpaw’ rolls with the punches to become a mostly enthralling watch throughout its typical rags-to-riches narrative.
Plot Summary: Professional boxer: ‘Billy Hope’ lives a life of luxury with his supportive wife: ‘Maureen’ and their daughter: ‘Leila’ after winning forty-three consecutive fights in a row, becoming a world-famous champion in light-heavyweight boxing. But after the zealous contender: ‘Miguel Escobar’ publicly challenges ‘Billy’, a violent confrontation breaks-out between the two, during which, ‘Maureen’ is fatally shot, sending ‘Billy’ down a rampant-path of self-destruction. Months later, ‘Billy’ is forced back into the ring, now fighting to revive his career and reclaim his daughter from child protective services.
Directed by Antonie Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer, The Magnificent Seven), ‘Southpaw’ is quite a diversion from Fuqua’s usual trend of directing action-heavy blockbusters. However, strangely, ‘Southpaw’ was originally conceived as an unofficial follow-up to the film: ‘8 Mile’, which was based on the real-life story of iconic rapper: ‘Eminem’, with the rapper himself also set to return as the film’s protagonist. But as a result of both the evolution of the film’s script and ‘Eminem’s music career conflicting with the film’s production schedule, the idea was eventually scrapped. Yet ‘Eminem’ still has an appearance within the film having worked on the soundtrack, performing the songs: ‘Phenomenal’ and ‘Kings Never Die’ alongside being an executive producer for the rest of the film’s music.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is for most, the best element of: ‘Southpaw’ as a whole, and it’s clear to see why. As Gyllenhaal makes the film far more engaging through his portrayal of: ‘Billy Hope’, displaying a huge range of emotions for the boxer from intense rage to devastating loneliness. Gyllenhaal’s performance even hints to the idea his character may be suffering from a traumatic brain injury, as early on in the film, after ‘Billy’ is brutally beaten during a fight, he struggles to have a simple conversation with his wife or answer questions from the press. Gyllenhaal has stated that he was inspired by real-world boxer Miguel Cotto, which might explain why his portrayal is so accurate. Forrest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams and Oona Laurence are all also excellent within the film, with each character undertaking an important role within the story.
When it comes to ‘Southpaw’s editing or it’s cinematography by Mauro Fiore, the film doesn’t really allow for anything overly creative or surprising. As while many close-ups are effectively utilised for when ‘Billy’ fights his opponents within the ring, with the camera paying close-attention to the sheer amount of sweat, spit and blood that protrudes from the pugilists. Most of the film’s camerawork consists of standard close-ups of character’s reactions or mid-shots of dimly-lit rooms. That is, before the story travels to the Las Vegas and Madison Square Garden stadiums, which are both much larger in scale and therefore, also spectacle.
Sadly, the second to last film to be composed by James Horner. ‘Southpaw’s original score doesn’t receive too much focus during the runtime, despite being a decently emotional and impactful score even if it isn’t all that memorable. Interestingly, director Antonie Fuqua actually had no money to pay James Horner to compose the film as a result of: ‘Southpaw’s budget running short. However, Horner didn’t care as he adored the script, and eventually (and generously) decided he’d compose the film for free.
In spite of the film pummelling viewers with genre clichés, I did find a few of: ‘Southpaw’s story-beats interesting. Most notably, the concept of: ‘Billy’ dealing with everything from severe grief to anger issues to drug abuse throughout his career, which all eventually cause him to lose custody of his daughter. As I feel these personality flaws make the audience resonate with ‘Billy’ far more as a character and as a father, rather than just being a boxing champion who fails to beat an opponent due to his pride. The screenplay also gives the impression that writer Kurt Sutter did his research into the world of professional boxing, as the film continuously displays how unforgiving the sport can be, with ‘Billy’ receiving serious bruises/wounds after each-fight, and when training, has to perform an abundance of techniques beyond just hitting a punching-bag.
In conclusion, although ‘Southpaw’ does have its issues and isn’t likely to become a drama recognised for generations to come, Jake Gyllenhaal’s spectacular performance certainly raises the film higher, and makes for an enjoyable time whether you’re a fanatic of sport-based dramas or not, with the film’s grimy realism and commentary on the harsh world of boxing (as underdeveloped as it may be) simply being extra-additions to the mixture. Final Rating: low 7/10.