Movie Review : Southpaw (2015)
Everybody loves Jake Gyllenhaal. He's been on a tear since doing Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners in 2013 and since then, everybody wants to see him in everything. It's only fair, because he's a versatile and dedicated performer can make almost anything better. Gyllenhall can't make EVERYTHING better, though. He definitely couldn't save Southpaw from its shitty screenplay. Perhaps I loathed this movie because I've boxed and I understand the business a little better than most people, but a collaboration between star director Antoine Fuqua, creator of Sons of Anarchy Kurt Sutter and Jake freakin' Gyllenhall shouldn't be this fucking bad.
Let's see what went wrong here.
Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the undisputed (and undefeated) light heavyweight champion of a form of boxing where blocking, slipping and ducking your opponent's punches is not allowed. So, he wins a lot of fights but takes a whole lot of punishment, too which worries his wife and most trusted advisor Maureen (Rachel McAdams). She doesn't want her husband to be punch drunk at her daughter's prom and, to be honest, he kind of already is. When Maureen is accidentally killed in a scuffle between Billy's entourage and contender Miguel Escobar's, everybody is ganging up on "The Great"... *sigh*... Hope * to take an extra fight, so that they can make money off him one more time.
OK, let's talk about the boxing first. An undisputed world champion shouldn't be punch drunk or be taking that much punishment in the first place. I mean, just look at real-life boxing champion Gennady Golovkin tearing through motherfuckers. They are feared men. Southpaw also introduces the concept of defense at the very end of the movie. Once again, there are boxers with no defense, but world champions didn't get to where they are by blocking punches with their face. Jake Gyllenhall sells the broken, tough guy character well enough, but a man like Billy Hope doesn't have the profile of a world champion. That's just stupid, melodramatic writing and this is something no acting talent can fix.
I know what you're going to tell me: "Ben, you obsessive-compulsive motherfucker. This is a detail. People who aren't following boxing don't care about that." Maybe so, but the non-boxing scenes aren't any better. The inciting incident - the accidental death of Billy's wife Maureen - happens in a ridiculous public brawl. I was laughing out loud when fists started flying. Maureen's death is not only ridiculous and far fetched, but it's a MacGuffin that triggers the entire narrative of the movie, which goes way, WAY over the top with the redemption angle. Billy loses his wife, his home, his kid's custody, moves into a crummy apartment and starts training in an inner city gym. Not only the speed at which Billy's life falls apart is ridiculous, but everything tat happens after Maureen's death is exactly what you would expect from a boxing movie. It's basically the plot of Rocky 3.
So, there you have it. Southpaw is a poorly written, ridiculous and predictable dud, which I didn't expect from a renowned screenwriter like Kurt Sutter. That kind of explains why the well has dried for him since then. He's only worked on a series I've never heard of and now he's preparing an off-shoot of Sons of Anarchy for next year. No more movies for Kurt. It's too bad, because the character of Billy Hope is different from what you usually get in boxing movies. He has a rugged edge and a brokenness to him that Jake Gyllenhaal sells admirably well. I think he watched a lot of Mike Tyson is preparation for it. Anyway, Southpaw is terrible, but not terrible enough that it's actually fun. Let that one fall into oblivion. Your time will be best invested elsewhere.
* Let me explain why this nickname is the worst. There used to be something in boxing called "The Great White Hope." Promoters were always looking for the next great white boxer to market to white audiences, which they thought were the only one that could afford their tickets. But, that was in the days where they hanged black people in the south. That has no business in a twenty-first century boxing movie. Shame on you, Kurt Sutter.