southpaw_2Year: 2015
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer(s): Kurt Sutter
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 124 mins

Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services. (Source)

Chances are, if you’ve seen any kind of competitive sport film, you’ve already seen Southpaw. But! That doesn’t mean Antoine Fuqua’s film isn’t devoid of merit. Chief amongst the film’s very watchable highlights are a strong cast lead by the powerful Jake Gylenhaal, who anchors just the right amount of heart to contrast the grit, sweat and blood of the film’s tough guy exterior. Make no mistake, this is really the Gylenhaal show, and he sells every moment of it as a tortured widower whose greatest battle lies not inside the boxing ring, but amidst the demons that occupy his head. Though the overall plot might not offer anything new, Gylenhaal makes the devastatingly universal story something to cheer for, and you will be, before the credits roll.

At the film’s start, undisputed boxing champ Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) has got it all. Overcoming his roots as an orphan, he’s a living legend, has a wife, kids and is content. But the fights are getting harder, and his body and mind are starting to recover slower from the beatings. After his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) suggests that he take a break to be with his family, he hesitantly accepts. It all goes south in the blink of an eye, however, at a charity event in which a very public scuffle ends Maureen’s life with a stray bullet and shatters Hope’s life in an instant. Already teetering on the edge of insanity after his loss, a series of unfortunate events causes Hope to loose custody of his daughter, sending him spiraling to the bottom. With no where else to go but up, Hope searches for redemption, picking up the tattered pieces of his life in order to reunite with the only family he has left, his daughter.

The film’s greatest narrative asset are the relationships at its core. It’s here where the film thrives, striking a perfect synergy between performances and the tiny details which make up each character. From the vulnerable, intimate exchanges peppered throughout, a matching tattoo, or even a clouded eye, these fleeting moments or things which catch our eye for a second all work to make the world feel lived in, making way from some moments of satisfying emotion. This is when the film hits its stride, really taking us deep into Hope’s world as those around him teach him how to quell the anger and animosity inside, turning all the pain into strength when all seems lost. Fuqua, alongside photographer Mauro Fiore lens the film in an experiential way, showing us Hope’s battered body and grim environment as a way to visualize the pain inside of him. This translates to a few good fights scenes as well, in which we almost feel the sting of sweat in our eyes and the taste of blood in our mouths.

southpaw_1As I originally mentioned however, the film lives and dies by its stunning performances. Though nowhere near as strong as Gyllenhaal’s previous showstopper Nightcrawler overall, his performance here is just as strong and a totally different beast. Coupled with this film, both roles prove that he’s an actor who has no limits and can completely immerse himself, and by proxy us viewers, into the singular worlds his characters inhabit. Here, Gyllenhaal is unlike anything we’ve seen before, body physically shredded, with everything from his gait, to his vulnerable eyes saying more than any words could. He goes all out and it’s a transformation that is mesmerizing. Even in just a brief role Rachel McAdams’ Maureen is commanding, playing the secret strength behind Gyllenhaal’s Billy, and looming over him long after she’s gone. The few moments they have together are so genuine and real, that you can’t help be affected. The same goes for actress Oona Laurence, who plays the pair’s daughter, Leila. Laurence has her work cut out for her, with some of the film’s most obviously trite dialogue, but she wholly sells it and adds to the film’s texture of grief and loss. She holds her own against Gyllenhaal and makes some of the film’s more difficult scenes work. The final shoutout goes to Forest Whitaker’s Tick Willis, who forms a bond with Hope and helps him redeem his broken life. Willis’ character, clearly going through his own problems is someone who knows that life is bigger than himself, and Whitaker

Southpaw cements Jake Gyllenhaal as one of the most important talents of his generation, and is a wrenching look at life, love, grief and redemption. It covers all the bases and is an visceral experience that hits hard thanks to the talent involved. In this case, Hope wins.