Boxing movies are as predictable as your wife’s reaction when you forget her birthday. These are tales that are as old as the Ramayana or Mahabharat!! Southpaw, much like its predecessors, is the story of a boxing champ who loses it all, only to fight his way back to glory. The only 2 people who have worked hard enough or cared enough are director, Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and Jake Gyllenhaal, even if the script rarely deviates from the comeback formula!!
As the film begins, Billy Hope (yes, no cliché there) played by Jake Gyllenhaal demolishes another opponent, to keep his undefeated record intact. After a bloody match, we see his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), worry about him. Her effort to make him quit his game at the heights of his career brings out his reckless and defiant self. Soon, his life with his doting wife and girl comes crashing down when a cocky new comer, Miguel Escobar (Oona Laurence), taunts him at a party, leading to a fist fight and a random gunfire which results in tragedy. He loses his will to fight and his luck & fortune desert him almost immediately! As a result of this and his reckless behavior, he loses custody of his child. Out of job and luck, he finds an unlikely saviour in Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker), who reluctantly agreed to train Billy and help him find his mojo and win his daughter back. He bides his time by picking up a job at the gym. Predictably, both of them join forces and combine to take a shot at redemption and triumph.
So, you must know by now that Southpaw is mercilessly stale and repetitive. The movie has the usual situations sprinkled in any boxing / sport film.
What saves the film though is Jake Gyllenhaal’s method performance. He alone keeps you invested throughout the film. He is the only ferocious element in an otherwise banal film. He plays the character of a boxer who “takes punches and more punches before knocking out the opponent” with utmost brutality. He is on a roll here. It is the kind of performance that would / should at least fetch him a nomination. Just like a superhero, he lends distinct touches to his on ring & off ring characters. Inside the ring, he is a raw, muscular fireball. Outside, he is a quiet(er), sensitive and vulnerable chap.
Meanwhile, Whitaker, who walks into the film after the halfway mark, just about gets by in a tailor-made role. You either wish that he had more to do or wish for a Morgan Freeman or a Denzel Washington to have essayed the role. The rest of the cast that includes names like Rachel McAdams, Curtis “50 cent” Jackson and Naomie Harris get their 10 minute roles just about right.
There is nothing truly out-of-the-box in any department. The screenwriter (Kurt Sutter of Sons of Anarchy fame) seems to have made peace with the fact that they are not going to outdo the holy Trinity of boxing movies (Rocky, Raging Bull and Million dollar baby). They give us an uninspired and insipid tale.
Mauro Fiore’s cinematography follows the template of any other boxing movie. The match scenes, though, are vividly shot. He picks up each drop of blood of sweat and makes it look brutal. There are definitely some moments in the first al fight sequence that stands out.
With its odd pacing, Southpaw never really engages you for than 5 minutes at a time. Guided by above average direction from Antoine Fuqua, Gyllenhaal throws in a mighty punch. But ultimately, Southpaw is just another forgettable, formulaic sports melodrama mess.