July 23, 2015
Billy Hope is the light heavyweight champion of the world with a 43-0 record. One day, as a result of his uncontrollable violent temper, tragedy after tragedy hits him and his family until he is left with nothing -- not his fortune, not his career, not his family. Despondent and desperate to get his life back, Billy swallows his pride and seeks the assistance of trainer Tick Wills to train him back to fighting form.
"Southpaw" is an acting showcase for its lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Last year in the film "Nightcrawler", Gyllenhaal gave us all the creeps with his very realistic portrayal of sociopathic pseudo-video journalist Louis Bloom. He was overlooked at the Oscars of the Best Actor nomination he clearly deserved. With this meaty role, Gyllenhaal set out to prove that that his transformative performance last year was not a fluke at all.
His performance here as Billy Hope is another triumph of his very serious and committed method acting style. Here, Gyllenhaal again undergoes a total physical transformation into a grizzled prizefighter with a buff hardened physique, scarred face and swollen eye. We feel every ache of his weary body as he shuffles in his gait. His speech is already slurred with probable nerve damage. We see and sense the ravages of his vicious sport on him.
He captured the character of an impulsive man who was not too savvy in life, and easily driven to violently angry tendencies. As Billy's world collapses around him, Gyllenhaal brings us all down to his hell with him. We totally see the unravelling of a man until a mere shadow of him remained. Then we would witness how he humbles himself as he tries to bring the shattered pieces of his life back together again. This was in addition to all the pounding he had in the boxing ring itself. This was truly an acting tour de force by Gyllenhaal which simply cannot be ignored.
The actors in supporting roles all share in Gyllenhaal's shine. Despite her name being so prominent in the poster, Rachel McAdams appeared on screen only for a very short time. In that limited time, we clearly see the effect of her strong character Maureen on her husband Billy. Bespectacled little Oona Laurence plays their spirited daughter Leila. Gyllenhaal and Laurence share some pretty intense emotional scenes together.
Forest Whitaker plays Tick Wills, the tough disciplinarian of a trainer whom Billy chose to bring him back on track. I like how they even include Whitaker's left eye into the story. Curtis "50 Cent" Smith plays Billy's fair-weather manager Jordan Mains. He really radiates a sleazy vibe with his flashy smile and shiny suits.
Director Antoine Fuqua effectively wrung all the right emotions out of this story. The storytelling is well-paced and the camera work is compelling. The fight scenes were well-choreographed and executed on screen -- very brutal, bloody, all with high tension. The first person point of view during the fights puts you right in the midst of all the action.
The musical score contributes so much to the drama of this film. This is also the last film James Horner scored before his untimely demise in a plane crash recently. We also hear Eminem rap in the soundtrack. It is interesting to note that Eminem was actually the original choice to play Billy Hope.
Boxing is a common sport tackled in movies because of its inherent drama. This is why we may feel we have seen this story In "Southpaw" told in another way before. However, the grippingly honest acting of Jake Gyllenhaal definitely set this film apart from others. Just as Robert de Niro is the main reason to watch "Raging Bull", Jake Gyllenhaal is the main reason to watch "Southpaw." 8/10.