I think Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the best current working actors right now and in the last 5 years he’s lived up to that claim. He’s slowly become one of my favorite actors and I was hearing good things about his performance in Southpaw. But I also was hearing bad things about the movie itself. So I decided to give it a shot due to my fanboyism and yeah it wasn’t a “great” movie but it wasn’t atrocious either. To be honest I was kind of let down even with low expectations.
Southpaw starts off very good. The first 5 minutes are captivating with a well directed boxing match, characters are developed, and conflict is foreshadowed. Overall some great set up going on and then 40 minutes into the film, it kind of loses its flare. The film is well directed, it’s really well shot and Gyllenhaal’s performance is nothing but powerful. So there’s an entertainment value there but the whole downfall of Billy Hope is so rushed. The betrayals come out of nowhere, him being a drug addict is an odd addition and then he loses custody to his daughter in the most absurd way ever. He goes broke and is deemed an unfit father by mysterious circumstances. I’m pretty sure in real life, it takes a lot more than what happened in the movie to lead to these circumstances. The whole time I was watching Southpaw, I just couldn’t get over how the events played out.
To be quite frank, I think the whole downfall & redemption story of a great athlete is a great idea. There was a point in the movie where I thought it was going to get super dark and go this really intense direction but then it stops and goes through a stupid safe sequence of events. Seeing how Kurt Sutter wrote this I wasn’t surprised. I was a huge fan of the show Sons of Anarchy & saw so many crazy possibilities for its end but Sutter phoned it in with 2 really crappy seasons that were cliche & poorly written. Southpaw is kind of like that, it starts off great but then starts to get progressively worse in story & dialogue. Sutter is terrible with payoffs. There was just so much potential in where they could go from here.
From here it’d be easy to shut off the movie because it’s obvious how it ends rights? It’s a sports movie but what really stood out to me was the father.daughter dynamic. I think the daughter was miscasted but the whole Billy Hope trying to find himself arc was powerful, especially since Jake is killing it in the lead role. I could feel this character’s anguish, it wasn’t about winning or boxing, it was about doing the right thing for his family & himself. It’s obvious the character has anger issues but there’s a contradiction there. He’s 43-0, yet he has the flaw of not being able to control his emotions and even Forest Whitaker’s character points out massive flaws in his boxing style. No way a boxer like this could be undefeated. There is the point of fixed fights brought up but if that was true, I’d figure it’d have more of an impact on Hope’s character. Another annoying contrivance, it’s like no one except Gyllenhaal did research.
Speaking of Forest Whitaker, a great actor who has a knack for bad scripts gives a really strong supporting performance but I feel his character suffered from another flaw of Southpaw’s. Undeveloped characters. There’s one scene where Whitaker is in the bar giving Billy Hope advice but it’s a whole bunch of jib jab dialogue. We hardly get insight on who his character is, the script relies on the audience to pick up on the old “veteran who could have made it big” cliche. Such an overdone cliche and the relationship he builds with Billy Hope doesn’t feel organic at all. It’s so formulatic and obvious that it’s following a script. There are a couple of characters in the movie that either get forgotten or have very quick out of the blue resolutions. Characters aren’t the only thing forgotten. Things in Southpaw are easily resolved or some things like the murder/police angle are forgotten. It’s so freaken frustrating. The last 40 minutes is one giant cliche but the final boxing match is a real joy to watch.
Overall as much as I’m complaining about Southpaw, it’s not really a bad movie but it’s script is its own worst enemy. It had Rocky potential. The boxing scenes are terrific, the direction is slick, the post production could have used a little work with music & editing but that’s not that big of a deal. Gyllenhaal is superb as the protagonist Billy Hope and could partially be why I kind of enjoyed some of the movie. It’s obvious that Southpaw is going to follow cliches as sports movie but its character drama that really stood out. Sadly it refuses to to take risks or to develop its supporting characters. There was a lot of potential in the movie and with a proper rewrite it could have been an incredible film that maybe the Oscars could have kept an eye out for. Instead it’s a draft in progress that was rushed to development. I think as a boxing fan or Gyllenhaal fan it might be worth a check. As a regular movie fan, I’d skip it. I’m a tough critic and some might be more than forgiving but I can’t help know that there was a greater movie out there if it was properly produced.