Magazine article Variety

Southpaw

Magazine article Variety

Southpaw

Article excerpt

FILW REVIEW/SHAGHAI

Southpaw

director: Antoine Fuqua

starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams

You can practically smell the blood, the sweat and the fierce actorly commitment rising from Jake Gyllenhaal's bruised and tattooed body in "Southpaw," a bluntly conventional melodrama about a champion boxer forced to undergo a grim crucible of physical, emotional and spiritual suffering. Yet the undeniable intensity of Gyllenhaal's bulked-up, Method-mumbling performance may leave you feeling more pummeled than convinced in this heavy-handed tale of redemption, in which director Antoine Fuqua once more demonstrates his fascination with codes of masculine aggression, extreme violence and not much else. Creakily plotted over the course of its rise-and-fall-and-rise-again trajectory, this partly Chinese-funded production may land enough visceral blows to catch on with audiences on its July 24 release through the Weinstein Co., but seems less likely to attain the prestigehit status of superior recent efforts like "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Fighter."

A rough-around-the-edges type who emerged from a life of Hell's Kitchen foster homes and jail cells to achieve major success in the ring, light heavyweight boxing champ Billy "the Great" Hope (Gyllenhaal) seems to have everything, living a life of luxury with a wife he adores, Maureen (a strong Rachel McAdams), and their precocious young daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence). But fame comes with the usual pitfalls, and Maureen wants her husband to take a break, not only so he can spend more time with his family, but also because she fears that his no-holds-barred boxing style will get him seriously injured or worse. Naturally, it's Maureen who will pay the ultimate price for her perceptiveness, succumbing to an accidental gunshot wound after Billy has a violent confrontation with a trash-talking rival, Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez).

Reeling from this senseless tragedy, Billy quickly descends into a spiral of anger, despair, substance abuse, poverty and violence, and winds up losing his house, his longtime manager (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) and, worst of all, Leila, who's placed in the care of family services. Determined to win back custody and gradually revive his boxing career, he takes a menial job cleaning toilets at a rundown gym owned by Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker), who reluctantly agrees to oversee Billy's training despite his distaste for professional boxing. The sort of tough-love mentor who forbids drinking and swearing (yet is not immune to either vice), Tick takes a higher-minded view of the sport, giving Billy the sort of athletic education that prioritizes technique, discipline and confidence over rage, retaliation and brute force.

Particularly during the film's first half, Fuqua deploys such a heavy directorial hand that he all but puts a chokehold on the material; he doesn't seem to be observing Billy's decline so much as actively trying to break his spirit. Fortunately, despite a thirdact finale that all too conveniently allows Billy to settle his score with fate, "Southpaw" largely avoids devolving into a sort of pugilistic "Death Wish." The boxing scenes themselves are dynamically lensed and cut (by d.p. Mauro Fiore and editor John Refoua, respectively), and Fuqua (a one-time boxer himself) favors a wide array of camera angles, always seeking to position the viewer in the midst of a gaudy, tawdry, pulsepounding spectacle. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.