Movie Commentary by A.C. Hall
I love Jake Gyllenhaal. In recent years he’s become one of the finest actors in the game. One thing that’s defined this phase of his career is his willingness not only to play interesting characters, but to become them. Gyllenhaal gives himself fully to these roles, delivering some of the finest performances in modern cinema. Southpaw is no exception to this, as Gyllenhaal is completely transformed as the film’s main character. The problem is, this isn’t a particularly pleasant character and the movie does far too good of a job showing us his failings. The end result is a good movie that’s not very pleasant to watch.
Gyllenhaal stars in the film as champion boxer Billy Hope. We join his story with him on top of the world, but soon that world falls apart. While he’s successful, Hope struggles with anger issues and when a tragedy befalls his family he rushes back into the ring far too quickly. This downward spiral continues as he loses custody of his daughter and hits rock bottom.
Here’s the thing. Everyone loves a redemption story. The problem is, when the movie is 85% downward spiral and only 15% redemption, you spend far too much time with the character at their worst and far too little time with them at their best. And make no mistake, Billy Hope is a pretty awful character. This guy downward spirals hard and fast. It’s a compelling story, but you spend most of it getting to know just how much you don’t like this guy.
There is a silver lining to this movie, and it comes mostly in the form of the great Forest Whitaker. He plays a boxing trainer that reluctantly agrees to train Hope and help him on his quest for redemption. There’s a moment late in the film when the two start training together that brought me real joy. It was the first ray of true light in what had spent a long time being a dark movie.
As a longtime fan of the Rocky series of films, I always expect and can appreciate when boxing movies pay homage to Rocky. What’s less appreciated is when they feel like blatant ripoffs of the Rocky series, and I think Southpaw falls into that quite a bit. There are many, many elements of this movie that feel completely lifted from the Rocky franchise.
I liked this movie, but it wasn’t really fun to watch. It’s long, dark, profane, and spends way more time on the fall than the rise. The boxing sequences are fantastic, and Gyllenhaal once again gives an incredible performance. Forest Whitaker rarely disappoints, and gives one of his better characters in years in the movie. Still, I’m not sure how I feel about recommending Southpaw. There was just something really unpleasant about this viewing experience.
TWO AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE STARS
This movie is rated R for language throughout, and some violence