Film Friday: Southpaw

Photo: The Weinstein Company/Scott Garfield

Boxing movies belong to a very well explored genre, that is often times difficult to escape it’s own well worn story structure. This grants a disadvantageous position to all boxing movies. Although Southpaw does fall into the pit traps of its genre, it manages to with its own, bloody, curse word ridden grace.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Light Heavyweight defending champion Billy Hope. Billy is at times animalistic (flipping tables like an internet meme) and at others sweet and caring (towards his family and close associates, hello Hollywood stereotypes) However, Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar (who is up and running for this year’s least developed villain) gets into a scuffle with our hero, which leaves Billy alone, poor, and without custody of his daughter.

I'm not gay, but Jake Gyllenhaal is Jake Gyllenhaal. Photo: Southpaw
I’m not gay, but Jake Gyllenhaal is Jake Gyllenhaal. Photo: Southpaw

While all the scenes in the first act can be summed up in one sentence (Billy tries to act cool, he hears something, freaks out and breaks things, and has to have a group of five or more people restrain him from breaking more things) the second act is a lot more blurry. It tries to be dramatic, but ends up instead being slow and forgettable. When the second act pulls a John F Kennedy and dies all of a sudden, we are treated to the intense, interesting, yet rushed third act. It feels trite, one-dimensional, yet still intriguing (like a bad James Bond movie)

The story is over all rather clichéd and schizophrenic. It’s trying to be both an Oscar winning drama about a boxer with anger management issues and a mindless boxing movie. The script, although not reaching “Your Mom” levels of bloated and ugly, is still mediocre at best and is Southpaw’s biggest drawback.

Southpaw’s saving graces, thankfully, are everything else. Jake Gyllenhaal is amazing as ever (praise be to his abdominal muscles) and has great chemistry with Oona Laurence, who plays his daughter. Oona Laurence, despite only being 13, is terrific, and shattered my perceptions of child actors (The shards were put back together when I turned on the Disney Channel) Other standout performances include Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams and 50 Cent (I’m not saying he was good, just that he wasn’t terrible, which is downright Oscar worthy by rapper standards)

To aid what is happening on screen is what was happening off screen. This was the late composer James Horner’s (the great man who made the mistake of writing “My Heart Will Go On”) last film. He scores it very well, and, by my guess, is looking at a posthumous Oscar (although that might be for sympathy) Then there’s the direction by Antoine Fuqua.

Antoine Fuqua’s style of fly on the wall meets Clint Eastwood drama really made this film. It keeps it intense in its intense scenes and somber in its somber ones. While he may not have had the best script to work with, he worked with what he had. It reminds me of the Ancient Egyptians, how they had ostensibly zero technology, yet were able to make the pyramids. Antoine Fuqua had zero energy in his script, yet managed to make an above average film.

Southpaw coulda been a contender, coulda been something. Instead of the bum, which is what it is. Alright, not really. Southpaw is better than most films released in a year, but it simply cannot come over its script. It suffers from the 50 Shades of Grey effect (When you have good actors and a good director but a terrible script) It is graceful in its own way yet still inevitably forgettable.

Southpaw’s final grade is 5/7