Following up The Equalizer, director Antoine Fuqua jumps into the world of boxing with this melodramatic, if not stylish, tale of a boxers road to redemption.
What type of movie is Southpaw? That’s the sort of question people will be asking when they finish up with the movie. In the movie itself, they claim the story of Billy Hope is one of a “redemption” story. Then they call it a “revenge” story. And it basically flip-flops from either redemption or revenge to the point where it really doesn’t matter. Coming off of his action packed, revenge based thriller The Equalizer, Antoine Fuqua went on to a different genre completely with Southpaw in terms of story. Going into the world of boxing and centering less around action scenes and explosions, Fuqua enters territory he hasn’t been around in a long time. The only problem is that in centering around drama, he doesn’t know when to tone it down. There are moments where Southpaw is so melodramatic that it can rival Titanic. But, like the movie itself, there are moments of redemption in the film.
Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) seems to have it all: the big house, his beautiful wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), his loving daughter Leila (Oona Laurence), and the boxing championship that he spent his whole life working towards. Coming off the fight that won him the belt, Maureen is trying to convince Billy to take some time off from boxing to spend more time with his family since she’s concerned for him. He may be a boxer, but he’s the Rocky-esque type of boxer who needs to get punched around a lot before he begins to do anything in the ring. During an event for the Hell’s Kitchen orphanage that him, Maureen, and a lot of his crew grew up in, he announces his retirement from boxing to the dismay of opposing boxer Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez). As Billy and Maureen go to leave the event, Escobar decides to get Billy riled up and things get heated, resulting in a brawl. During the brawl, Maureen is shot by someone who looks to be in Escobar’s crew.
With Maureen’s death, Billy begins to go into a downward spiral he slowly begins to lose everything he worked for. He begins drinking heavily, taking dangerous drugs, and becomes distant to the world. He decides to go back into boxing, heeding the advice of his manager Jordain Mains (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and signing the 3 fight contract with HBO. Things don’t exactly go as planned as Billy just looks completely uninterested in the fight and takes a beating, ending in him headbutting the referee. From that point on, he’s suspended from boxing for a year. One night, he takes his gun and drives out to an apartment complex looking for Escobar. Unable to find him, he drives himself home and crashes head on into a tree in front of his house. After these events, he’s had his house repossessed, all of his possessions, his cars, and the court has decided that he’s unfit to take care of his daughter, Leila, and she’s now been placed in the care of family services. Billy, with nothing left, knows he has to start over and get back on his feet. He goes to boxing trainer Titus “Tick” Wells (Forest Whitaker) to work for him and train with him so he can finally get back on his feet and get his daughter back where she belongs.
Southpaw has a very strong cast with forces like Gyllenhaal, Whitaker, and McAdams doing their thing on screen. The only downside is that the script drags down the work of each actor and it doesn’t seem like screenwriter Kurt Sutter actually knows what he wants for his characters. The story is simple enough, but it just doesn’t execute as cleanly as it should. Gyllenhaal’s Billy Hope, even with all his tragedy, just doesn’t feel like someone an audience can empathize with…which says a lot considering he deals with so much loss in the film. Then there’s the death of a minor character in the film which is supposed to have some sort of emotional impact on the characters and the audience but it just comes and goes like it’s nothing. Gyllenhaal obviously still gives it his all in the film and he is impressive as always, but the script just can’t reach his levels of intensity.
That being said, there is one thing redeeming Southpaw: the boxing sequences. I’ve never been someone that would sit down and watch boxing, but when those scenes played on the screen I felt like I was watching a real, legitimate boxing match. There was more excitement in the fictionalized matches in the film than there was during Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. They were so well choreographed and you could tell just how much work each actor, Gyllenhaal in particular, put into the craft. When it comes down to it, Southpaw can feel boring. It can be melodramatic. It can feel empty. But once the bell rings, we’re presented to sequences that rival those of the Rocky franchise and it feels like all the negatives fade away. Speaking of Rocky, Southpaw isn’t the only boxing film of the year with Creed coming out November 25. So this could be the year we see boxing make a comeback.
Southpaw is directed by Antoine Fuqua, written by Kurt Sutter and Richard Wenk, and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, and Rachel McAdams. Southpaw will be in theaters July 24, 2015.