Monday, July 27, 2015

Movie Review #287: "Southpaw" (2015)

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
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Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the undefeated and undisputed world light heavyweight boxing champion. After an altercation with top contender Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) at a charity event, a scuffle begins and one of Miguel's entourage pulls a gun and fires, hitting Billy's wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and killing her. This sends Billy's life on a downward spiral, leading him to lose his money, his home, his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence), and his world title. Now at rock bottom, Billy must make changes in his life and start his road to recovery, begin his road back to the top, and regain custody of his daughter. 

The ironically titled "Southpaw" is your average, run-of-the-mill sports redemption story. We say the title is ironically named because, despite this title (which, for those of you who don't know, is a boxing term meaning left-handed), the main character Billy Hope, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is an orthodox, or right handed fighter and hardly throws any southpaw punches in the entire film. Though this is a sports movie, it lays on some heavy drama from beginning to end. At the start of the film, it is explained that Billy Hope grew up in the foster care system, neglected and broke, but over time, has become the undefeated, undisputed world light heavyweight boxing champion. He has 43 wins and 0 losses, an impressive record for any sport and any athlete. He lives in a mansion with his loving wife and daughter, and has an entourage of friends he keeps on as staff, like most boxing stereotypes. He also has a promoter named Jordan Mains, a Don King-type played by Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, who should stick to rapping from here on out and probably should have stopped acting yesterday. Shortly after an impressive fight sequence early on, then begins the drama. Billy's wife Maureen is killed in the lobby of a hotel after a charity event. Naturally, this blow was harder than any hit he would have ever taken in the ring, especially when considering Mo, as she was affectionately called, handled all of the bills, the "important stuff," and was the one person who could always keep Billy in check. Suffering from grief and not in the right frame of mind, Billy takes a fight and loses his world title. Despite coming off a $10 million dollar payday, he somehow manages loses his house and all of his possessions. Drinking heavily, he eventually loses his daughter as she is taken away by Child Protective Services. Apparently, what they say is true: when it rains, it pours. Now with the odds stacked against him, Billy has to redeem himself and win his daughter back. Sound familiar, anyone?

The main problem with "Southpaw" is none of this ample, burdensome drama seems natural and much of it feels very forced. Unfortunately, it really comes down to sloppy writing, and though we have been fans of Kurt Sutter's work in the past (he was the head honcho on the television show "Sons of Anarchy"), the final product here would suggest he was stuck in TV episode mode as opposed to screenplay mode. With a few simple tweaks in his dialogue, the script could have been tidied up a bit here and there, and all would have been just fine, smoothed over and edited to the point where the unexplained was at least a little more than glossed over. None of what happens to Billy really makes much sense when put into the perspective of the bigger picture and it only happens to add more drama, forcing him into a more relatable, all too well known underdog position.

Despite these few problems, we must commend Jake Gyllenhaal, once again, because he has truly solidified himself as one of the great actors of not just right now, but our generation as a whole. He puts on an outstanding, impressive performance, essentially carrying the weight of this film on his back. He truly sells the Billy Hope character and we believe in him even with said flaws in the film's writing. Yolked up, learning how to box, slurred, mumbled speech, a short temper, redemption in his eyes, Gyllenhaal is right up there with the Christian Bale and Daniel Day-Lewis types who "go method" for their craft. Watching him act is a pleasure each and every time we get to do so. Rachel McAdams, who plays Billy's wife Maureen, is also excellent for the brief time she is in the film. She and Gyllenhaal grew up together "through the system" and maintained their relationship through the good times and the bad. Their chemistry is not only believable, but palpable as well. When she dies, it is truly heartbreaking to watch, even though we knew it was coming. Oona Laurence, who plays Billy and Maureen's young daughter Leila, really sold her performance as an angry, emotional, confused, and hurt child who just lost her mother and was taken away from her father. She and Gyllenhaal share some really touching, heart-wrenching moments on screen together, though BigJ wasn't quite as moved by her performance as I was. Forest Whitaker plays Tick Wills, Billy's comeback trainer, an out-of-commission fighter who never saw his full potential because of an in-ring incident. A drunk and bitter old man, he helps the local disadvantaged youth at his gym and promises to get Billy back to his glory days. As we mentioned above, as good as all of their performances are, 50 Cent's is equally as bad. Though we may believe him, the person, as a shady boxing promoter, we can barely understand him as he mumbles his lines through the film's run time and doesn't really sell his performance. In many ways, he is supposed to be the villain of the movie, but the worst thing he does is promote a rival fighter and only gives Billy six weeks to train for a title fight. This isn't even an outrageous amount of short notice. Really, the most villainous people in the whole film are social services, as their reasoning for removing custody of Leila isn't all that strong, especially considering Billy never once put his daughter in danger.

Overall, though the performances are mostly outstanding, especially Gyllenhaal's, we couldn't get over some of the faux pas in the writing long enough to love this film. It's good, but it's not great, though we would love to see Jake Gyllenhaal get a redemption Oscar nomination for last year's "Nightcrawler" snub. We're not still bitter...........okay, maybe we are, but it's not like he doesn't deserve it here, too.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 58%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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