Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence
If there's anything that 'Southpaw' proves, it is that Jake Gyllenhaal has got to be the single greatest actor working in this industry. He has not only been starring in a string of extremely good films, but he also has the capacity to uplift less than spectacular script material into a watchable film with only his acting skills.
Watch the trailer of 'Southpaw'
'Southpaw' falls into that latter category, where you wish the film were more than the sum of its parts. The film is directed by Antoine Fuqua who is famous for getting Denzel Washington his Oscar for 'Training Day', and following that up with a string of mostly terrible movies, including last 2013's 'Olympus Has Fallen'. Fuqua does what he has been doing in every movie of his – he gets the basics right, shoots the film with authenticity and finesse, so when his soap opera style narrative plays out, you forgive him because everything else in the movie is pretty good.
Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, a world champion boxer who sees himself rise to the top of the world, then plunges to the bottom after his wife gets accidentally killed, and then loses himself in a cocktail of depression and drugs, and eventually rises because his daughter needs him to be a good father. The concept has been done countless times, especially in the 'Rocky' movies but instead of Stallone we have Gyllenhaal chewing up the scenery. His presence is magnetic to say the least, and when his character goes through a downturn you feel for the guy. So even in the face of familiarity in the plot, you find yourself engaged in the movie.
Forest Whitaker turns up as a mentor to Gyllenhaal's character but his ideology of not training pro boxers is never quite explained to the audience. It remains to be seen if his character ended up on the cutting room floor. The same applies to a number of other characters, like 50-50 who plays Hope's manager and Naomi Harris who plays a child support specialist. The main focus of the film is the boxing matches and the film delivers handsomely on that front. They're shot beautifully and they have enough adrenaline in the visuals to pump you with excitement. Ultimately it's a story of hope and redemption, and on a simplistic level, it works. It's not the best movie, but it's harmless and well acted for sure. Given Gyllenhaal's physical transformation for the role, a better-written movie would have been more worthy.