Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Victor Ortiz, Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, Oona Laurence
Run Time: 124 mins
Originally intended as a continuation of the hit 2002 rap-biopic film, ‘8 Mile’ with rapper Eminem in the lead role, ‘Southpaw’ has evolved quite a long way from its inception. Eminem put filming on hold to focus on his successful music career with critically acclaimed actor Jake Gyllenhaal filling in for him. Sitting in the director’s chair is Antoine Fuqua who has delivered solid action flicks, ‘Training Day’ and ‘The Equalizer’ in the past. The fact that the film was picked up by the Weinstein Company to distribute is very promising and with their track record, it seems pretty likely that this film could very well be Awards material.
‘Southpaw’ is not Awards material in the slightest – the film is very formulaic and manipulative in its storytelling and the film has pacing issues, but where the film is triumphant is in its acting and sheer watchability. This film has been done time and time again but by the strength of the acting alone, the film is able to hold itself up and despite being overfamiliar, the film is ultimately satisfying.
Although the film can’t match his performance, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as boxer, Billy ‘The Great’ Hope is nothing short of transformative. Gyllenhaal is on a very strong roll lately and it’s refreshing to see him pick different types of film roles. The character of Billy Hope is completely the opposite of Gyllenhaal’s narcissistic and daring turn as the immoral Lou Bloom in last year’s ‘Nightcrawler’ – Hope is a more moral character, a born fighter that never wins until he bleeds enough. Fuqua directs many fight scenes in the film that test Hope’s physical strength to the maximum and on the verge of defeat, he is able to pull of heroic successes. It’s very easy to see Eminem’s inspiration shine through in Gyllenhaal’s performance. Without Gyllenhaal in the role, the film would have reduced itself to be nothing more than a cringeworthy and flat television drama.
Rounding out the cast is Forest Whitaker who plays himself pretty much, Rachel McAdams as his wife who again plays herself pretty much and Naomie Harris in a small role where she doesn’t really get to show off her acting chops. Who is surprisingly good here is Curtis Jackson, more commonly known as rapper 50 Cent who is quite good at acting and his character is quite cold and self-interested. Oona Laurence plays the daughter of the Hope family and after her role in the Broadway musical ‘Matilda’, she is very good here and is most likely set to have a successful future in the film industry.
The story in the film is fairly uninspired – it’s been done time and time again but despite Fuqua manipulating our emotions, it is still an emotional journey to see Gyllenhaal’s character sink to an all-time low and then rise again. He loses everything – his mansion, his earnings and even his daughter all down to the death of a certain character. However, Forest Whitaker, who plays a ‘Mr Miyagi’ type character in the form of Titus ‘Tick’ Wills who coaches Hope back to his previous successes.
One final noteworthy feature of the film is its impressive score. Even though Eminem didn’t end up playing the main role, he helps to contribute towards the film’s soundtrack and it really fits in with the film. The late James Horner’s score is even more impressive, his first posthumous release after he died in a devastating plane crash and the score is almost another supporting character in the film, helping to guide Hope through his tough and enduring journey.
Even though ‘Southpaw’ doesn’t manage to be the smash-hit it looked to be and also the fact that it relies on an overfamiliar and uninspired storyline, it is still an entertaining watch that boasts some impressive performances. If you want a break from all the big-budget blockbusters that have dominated the box office this Summer or just want something to pass the time, this does the job very well. Just don’t go in expecting a big Awards contender.