Tuesday, July 21, 2015

“Southpaw”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club special event: the premiere of the new drama “Southpaw”, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by Antoine Fuqua


When a champion prizefighter loses everything, can he return to the ring and recapture his former success?



In the ring, Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) has a style that’s becoming increasingly dangerous: he allows his opponent to beat the daylights out of him for several rounds before retaliating and ultimately defeating him. The more fights he has, the more of a pounding he takes, but this unorthodox technique has given him an undefeated record and won him a championship belt. Not even his influential wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) can dissuade him from this method, although she is entrusted with advising him on other career matters, much to the dismay of his ruthless manager Jordan Mains (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson).

Following a charity event, Hope is publically confronted by another boxer, Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gómez), who hopes to take the championship from him. Creating a scene, he brazenly taunts Hope into a fistfight; Maureen unsuccessfully attempts to convince her husband to ignore him, but the urge to defend himself proves irresistible. During the donnybrook, a gunshot rings out -- Maureen is hit and fatally injured, leaving Hope to raise their daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) alone. Unfortunately for the both of them, Hope is unable to show that he is up for the task and behaves irresponsibly, causing the court to remand Leila to Childrens Services.

Losing a subsequent match controversially, Hope reluctantly must relinquish his title and now finds himself suspended and unable to book any more fights for an extended period of time. Owing taxes and legal fees, Hope ultimately files bankruptcy and when the bank forecloses on his house, he’s homeless as well. With Mains abandoning Hope to ride the coattails of Escobar who seems destined for greatness, Hope desperately tries to regain his stature by seeking the help of gym owner Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) to be his new trainer. But can Hope return to the ring as a professional and retrieve his championship?


For those who enjoy formulaic movies, “Southpaw” may provide adequate entertainment value. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with a formula; if it’s done well, the formula can yield a fun, engaging or suspenseful movie-going experience. In order for that to happen, however, the film has to have a good story (screenplay) which is well-told (directing) with convincing portrayals (acting). Unfortunately, “Southpaw” contains very little of the above. The screenplay by Kurt Sutter (“Sons Of Anarchy”) is trite and clichéd; Fuqua’s directing is uninspired, at times seeming to borrow shots from Scorsese’s “Raging Bull”; and the acting by Gyllenhaall lacks verisimilitude -- his mumbling is a poor substitute for a real portrait of an uneducated kid from the streets.

One of the problems surrounding the formulaic aspects of “Southpaw” concerns its predictability. It doesn’t take ESP to anticipate which types of scenes will follow certain other scenes. For that matter, a good number of lines of dialog could probably be guessed by audience members before characters have a chance to emote them. Neither of these are a good sign. Another issue is that some events in the film just don’t ring true. For example, the investigation of the shooting itself: the police suspect the shooter may be someone from Hope’s entourage who could have been carrying an unregistered weapon. Couldn’t that be verified by having their forensics team perform a ballistics test on the pistol to determine when or even if it was fired? Also, a text messaging scene by Leila is almost unintentionally laughable.

On a more positive note, the soundtrack by Eminem, although sparsely integrated in “Southpaw”, is quite appropriate given the story; Mr. Mathers’ music actually does a better job of creating the gritty street-fighter atmosphere than anything else in the movie. Given that, it’s a bit of a shame that it is so under-utilized in this film. Obviously, that’s not going to be enough to save this motion picture. As for the acting, Rachel McAdams fans will be disappointed in her early exit; Forest Whitaker, on the other hand, gives his reliably realistic and solid performance as Hope’s new trainer -- but just as McAdams’ character leaves early, his character arrives late.


Southpaw (2015) on IMDb

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