Jake Gyllenhaal delivers another electric performance as he comes back from the brink in the new boxing drama SOUTHPAW.
Well, I can’t say I agree with the majority of reviews I’ve read for SOUTHPAW. Director Antoine Fuqua’s new drama features another electric performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. But it’s been called melodramatic, cliched and slow. And whilst I do think that Kurt Sutter’s script has its flaws, what you can’t get away from is the emotional punch that the movie delivers. I came out of the screening reeling and knocked out by it.
Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal looking every inch a tough street kid with his total physical transformation for the part) is at heart an angry guy, who channels that anger in the only way he knows how by going 10 rounds with an opponent in the boxing ring. It’s bought him fame, fortune and success. But Billy also owes his current place at the top to his wife Maureen. As much his manager as his partner, in the devastatingly brilliant performance of Rachel McAdams she is the centre of the scene whenever she’s in on-screen.
Both coming from the tough side of the street and together since they were 12, Billy and Maureen have become a formidable unit with Maureen’s soft but steely realistic thinking almost always winning out over Billy’s less structured, more wild man approach to things. What they both do share is total love for their young daughter Leila (a mix of her parents’ traits in Oona Laurence’s sharp and feisty portrayal).
A shockingly sudden act of violence shatters their lives and Billy is soon hitting rock bottom, pushing everyone away in his despair. Losing his money, his house and with no one to fight, he’s on the verge of losing his daughter too. With Leila taken in by social services for a spell, it’s down to Billy to find a way through his pain and pull his life back on track.
A small boxing gym run by a one-time successful manager Tick Wills (the majestic Forest Whitaker) may be the answer. If Billy can secure a job there and convince Wills to get back in the game and train him for a comeback fight, his fortunes may just be revived.
It’s in this regard that Fuqua’s film has been criticised – the hackneyed old story of somebody losing it all when they’re at the top and getting one last chance to come back from the brink, back to one more moment of glory. Well as I said, I took those comments and thought ok, it’s a well-worn idea but what knocked me for six was the passion and attack with which Fuqua and his actors meet this material.
For that, I feel SOUTHPAW is a film that will move you from the first to the last frame. Wiping away tears as I did when watching it, you’d have to be pretty stony-hearted not to have a lump in your throat seeing Gyllenhaal struggle with all the odds stacked against him and dare I say it, triumph, so give it a watch – you may be just as moved as I was.