Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Southpaw (2015)

          'Southpaw' Is Hardly A Knockout, Yet Its Lead Actor Throws A Giant Punch
      It would certainly make sense that, as part of the recent career roll he's been on, Jake Gyllenhaal would give another performance that throws a big punch, screaming "I'm back, baby!".

    Southpaw follows the story of a boxer named Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) who seems like he is riding high until one night, a fellow boxer antagonizes him, resulting in a fight as well as the death of his wife (Rachel McAdams). Now, having lost everything including his daughter to child services, Hope must aim for a shot at redemption and get back in the ring.

     I'll start off with the tour-de-force by Jake Gyllenhaal. Having finally capitalized on his early promise he showed in films like Brokeback Mountain and Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal continues the roll he is on with his work in this. The genius of his performance is that while he showcases Billy's redeemable qualities, he isn't afraid to show his negative sides as well and how he tends to take his rage in the ring outside of it. His Billy Hope wouldn't come within a mile radius of his Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler, further solidifying his chameleonic range and I am excited to see his next moves. Even though Rachel McAdams has limited screen time, she certainly makes the most of it as Billy's wife Maureen, who is the glue that holds him together. McAdams is given the typical "stressed out wife" role that we often see in sports or biopic movies, but she elevates it by providing a mix of warmth and quiet toughness. I also would like to acknowledge Oona Laurence, who plays Billy's daughter Leila. For such a young child actress, she not only plays the role as someone wise beyond her years, but doesn't play up the maturity factor and act too adult. Laurence simply portrays Leila as a girl going through the motions. Forest Whitaker also provides solid support as a former boxer who trains Billy for the climactic fight and also regularly trains young boys in the city to help them escape their environment.

       I also liked how it demonstrated the theme of trying to escape your environment. At first, it is hinted that Billy didn't have the greatest upbringing and that he grew up an orphan. But his upbringing slowly comes back to him as he loses his fortune and his daughter is put in Social Services. While I didn't feel that angle was explored enough, it is still interesting they went in that direction at least.

       To me, the biggest problem lies in the script. Not only was it predictable, but it is sort of boxing you on the head with its sentimentality, begging you to feel sorry for the main character when he loses everything. I would've preferred they had just maybe kept the wife's death so that he would have one main motivation to get back in the ring and redeem himself for what happened. Thankfully, as Billy predictably changes his ways, Gyllenhaal handles his arc very nicely.

       Overall, Southpaw is ridden with cliches, or "hit with too many punches", yet its material is elevated by Oscar-worthy work by its leading actor. He also has an astounding cast supporting them that elevate the material they are given as well.

       Would I Recommend It?:
       While the film is predictable, I would still recommend it just for Jake Gyllenhaal's performance that is mentally and physically transformative.

Grade: B-

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