Movie Review - Southpaw

The final fight goes on for a long time. After watching it for a while, I started to feel the verisimilitude. It looks as if the two actors are actually hitting each other. It looks as if they're also actually sweating and bleeding in that Madison Square Garden-like boxing ring. If director Antoine Fuqua accomplishes anything, it's that sense of reality. Unfortunately, that's all killed in the final hit, which is stylized as Hell, and feels like a punch and a shot too far, needlessly standing out as one false note in a series of false notes.

Jake Gyllenhaal packs on a lot of muscle and gets his abs super-ripped. He develops a speech pattern and physical ticks that dominate everything else and sacrifice everything else in service to that. The emotions, however, are all so clunky and false. I bought the well-built body because I had no choice. Fuqua was constantly shoving it in our faces, but I didn't buy any of the feelings, particularly the flood of tears or at times uncontrollable rage. He was just a pendulum swinging back and forth.

The writing by Kurt Sutter (The Shield and Sons of Anarchy) is sloppy or at times atrocious. The directing is self-same. Probably even worse, the film overall is boring and dull. Sadly, the middle-half of the film put me to sleep. The movie tries. It tries very hard, but it did nothing to make me care. Its attempts failed. By the end, I'm scratching my head about what the point was or what I was supposed to learn or take-away that wasn't common sense. Hit someone inside the ring and not outside it!

Gyllenhaal stars as Billy Hope, a boxer in New York who has a perfect, 43-0 record. He's married to a beautiful woman named Maureen, played by Rachel McAdams. He also has a 10-year-old daughter named Leila, played by Oona Laurence. He has a mansion, several cars and just a luxurious lifestyle. He comes from the foster care system like his wife, which is incredible, but he doesn't seem to be particularly educated.

His luxurious life all goes away after his wife is shot and killed. Like he and his wife, his daughter is put into foster care briefly when Billy demonstrates dangerous behavior, including what seems like a suicidal moment. It's at this point that the film starts to fall apart.

First off, following the first of three fights depicted, we see Billy coughing up blood and walking like an old man because he's so bruised and beat-up. One would think this might be an aspect utilized later, but no.

Secondly, there's a question of Maureen's death. There's one scene of the police asking Billy some things about what happened, but that's it. She was essentially murdered in a public space with dozens of witnesses around. Yet, nothing comes of it. I suppose that her death was only to shepherd a story about a father and his daughter, but so much is mishandled.

The daughter for example was sloppily written and not that well acted quite frankly. The relationship between Billy and Leila seems strong. Once Maureen dies, we see that strong bond. Both are yelling and fighting just to hug each other after the judge rules to put her in foster care. The next scene, however, she hates him. The next scene or two, she's fine with him. The next scene she's cursing him out again, and there's no connective tissue to explain what's going through her mind.

Forest Whitaker co-stars as Tick Wills, a trainer in a tiny gym in one of the New York boroughs. He seems to be playing the same kind of role as Morgan Freeman in Million Dollar Baby, or just that of a wise, old, black man. There seems to be a hint of a possible story to be told about the area, domestic troubles and children caught in the middle. We see that potential in a black teen named Hoppy, played by Skylan Brooks (The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete and Our Family Wedding). Sadly, the film dispatches it in a clunky way that makes us not care about it. We basically don't get to know enough about Tick or Hoppy. Not enough time is devoted to them.

This would have been fine, if the movie devoted more time to the relationship between Billy and Leila, but not enough is given there either. The choice to put Leila in foster care was a bad decision, from a story structure-standpoint. I get the parallel to Billy's history, but it puts too much distance or a gap between the characters that the film just can't bridge.

Miguel Gomez (The Strain and Louie) plays Miguel Escobar, a boxer whom challenges Billy to a match. Like with everyone else, this film doesn't give us enough time with Miguel, truly diving into his back story and motivations. The most one can ascribe to him is that he's a Latino bad guy. There's a hint to things about him but we're not given a fully fleshed-out picture of him. It's a shame because Gomez, particularly in his one episode of Louie showed great potential and range as an actor.

One Star out of Five.
Rated R for language throughout, and some violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 3 mins.


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