Southpaw (2015)

Southpaw (2015)
  • Time: 123 min
  • Genre: Action | Drama | Sport
  • Director: Antoine Fuqua
  • Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, 50 Cent


Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services.


  • Southpaw reminds us that the pleasures of a genre film lie less in originality than in the quality of the performance of familiar elements. Being old-hat is a challenge not a disqualification.
    The plotline is familiar: a boxer is a single father who fights back to regain his child, title, fortune and especially self-respect. He has to fight and win in the social arena as well as in the ring. In Red Skelton’s The Clown the dad was a — spoiler alert — clown not a fighter but in The Champ he’s a fighter not a clown. Different jobs, same story. Different make-up, same emotions.
    However familiar the plot, characters, even speeches, this film still packs a punch. Credit the strong supporting cast, especially Forest Whitaker as the second trainer, Rachel McAdams as the winning doomed wife and especially Oona Lawrence as the tough but needy little daughter. Of course, Jake Gyllenhaal is no mug in the leading role. He persuades us both with his rage and his vulnerability. Odd the film wasn’t called Raging Poppa.
    The fight scenes are almost in the same heavyweight class as Scorsese’s incomparable Raging Bull. Much of the film’s dramatic and emotional wallop comes from the crimson clashes, shot in intense closeup with sharp jabbing cuts and our disorientation matching the fighters’. The plot pours the violence out of the ring into the extra-arena showbiz, where another fight causes the wife’s death.
    Billy Hope’s redemption lies in his overcoming his rage and emotional excess. He needs to do that to get back custody of his daughter. He also has to harness his anger to win the climactic fight. He almost loses it — and also the fight — when he lets his opponent’s marital taunt enflame him.
    But he recovers and wins on the strength of his change not just in character but in tactic. First, his new coach trains him to block punches instead of absorbing them in his version of Ali’s rope-a-dope. He also cultivates his surprising left hook — hence the choice of title. Going southpaw is a metaphor for Billy Hope’s radical change of character that redeems him.
    Billy (nee William) toughens his Will to succeed in his Hope, to recover his family. This is prefigured when he has his daughter spell ‘dismantle’ and ‘hopelessness.’ Billy recovers his Hope by dismantling his old character and developing a new strong reach. That’s the new wine this film pours out of the old bottle, its genre source.
    The film’s full use of scantily-clad ring-number beauties leads to another theory. Why are male-centered sports, like basketball, football, and especially boxing, always accompanied by sexy broads? There’s an erotic element in watching impressive male specimens groping each other and joining in emotional violence, especially when they’re stripped down as in basketball and boxing. (Hockey doesn’t count here.) The spectacle therefore provides exposed beautiful women to provide a hetero relief — and perhaps save us from acknowledging the homoerotic potential in macho sports. That’s why in bromances — whether Starsky and Hutch, Butch and Sundance, even down to the Ted flicks — one guy always has a girlfriend.
    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  • (Rating: ☆☆ ½ out of 4)

    This film is mildly recommended.

    In brief: This film never lands its knock-out punch but it does go the distance.

    GRADE: B-

    Boxing is a grueling sport, but not as grueling as sitting through the unoriginal Southpaw, a cliché-ridden heavy-weight tale of a down-on-his-luck pugilist plugging away to make his life better. The characters are light-weight replicas of real-life people, but it’s the actors, especially Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role, who punch up this film to make it a worthy contender.

    Granted, there have been some real knockouts in the cinematic history of boxing movies (Raging Bull, The Fighter, Million Dollar Baby, the original Rocky). And there have also been some god-awful ones (The Main Event, Grudge Match, all the other Rocky sequels) Southpaw falls squarely in the midsection. It’s strong when it stays within the ropes, but once it leaves the arena, it’s hopelessly pretentious, utterly predictable, and so heavy-handed, even with its gloves on or off.

    If you have seen the film’s trailer (which reveals the entire movie), you know where the film is going before the count. It’s The Champ revisited, but grittier, bloodier, and supposedly more realistic, except for its nonsensical story.

    As our story begins, Billy Hope (geez!) has everything: a loving wife, an adorable daughter and a lucrative boxing career. He is a wonderful guy, a champion on top of the world until (gasp!) tragedy strikes. Literally, once the Great White Hope in the boxing world, Billy falls on some hard times (of course). His road to redemption won’t be easy (of course), but he will fight tooth and nail to get back on top (of course).

    Jake Gyllenhaal’s commitment to this part is impressive. He toned up and certainly looks like a down-on-his luck boxer who has seen the dark side too often. With his highly sculptured physique, bruised and battered face, and rock-hard abs, the actor earnestly tries to pump some life into this lifeless role. But, as written, Billy is so one-dimensional and never really amounts to a real character, more of a caricature that we have seen a zillion times in this genre. Blame the screenwriter, Kurt Sutter, not the actor. Rachel McAdams plays Mo, his tough but loving wife (complete with a New Yawk accent) and Oona Laurence is memorable as Leila, their daughter caught in Billy’s downward spiral. Forest Whitaker adds some interest in his uninteresting supporting role as Tick Willis, Billy’s loyal manager and conscience. Moviegoers can revel in this talented actor’s few dramatic moments whenever he is on the screen. Rounding out the cast is 50 Cents as Jordan Mains, his money-hungry promoter and Miguel Gomez playing Magic Escobar, his villainous opponent. (Hey, what is it with these odd names anyway?)

    While the dialog has an authentic grittiness, the plot becomes more and more absurd in its predictability, As multiple obstacles quickly begin to mount in the most illogical of ways against our hero (who should be renamed Billy Hopeless), Southpaw starts to become a parody of itself. Director Antoine Fuqua doesn’t help matters with his overt foreshadowing of events and his penchant for soap opera melodramatics. He stages the boxing scenes with lots of hand-held in-your-face close-ups but handles these sequences with some verve. However, his vision of the human drama outside the ring is so labored and overdone. The manipulative ending offers no surprises and the overall result is a bit of a yawn.

    Southpaw is a dumb palooka of a movie! Even before the first punch is thrown, the contrived plot and its superficial characters kayo the film. But Gyllenhaal’s impassioned performance is reason enough to see this film.

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  • I will state it upfront that I will be extra hard in my review of “Southpaw” the new boxing movie directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer, Olympus Has Fallen), let me explain why. I am a student of the “Sweet Science” as boxing is called in pugilist circles, for over 19 years now. I am a hardcore fan of boxing and follow what is happening in this sport everyday visiting boxing websites. I watch every major boxing fight of the last 20 years and thousands of mediocre ones as well. You name a fighter in the past two decades and I probably saw him fighting, know his record and I will be able to name five top opponents he faced in his career. I witnessed career of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Lenox Lewis, Oscar Del Hoya, and other top pound for pound fighters with almost religious devotion. I am also a student of the history of boxing going all the way back to boxers like Jack Jonson, Joe Lewis and Rocky Marciano. Apart of being a fan I also train boxing. In my home I had a punch bag and speed bag and when I go to the gym I always start with boxing workout consisting of shadow boxing, and sessions on Heavy and Soft bags. I am aware of boxing techniques, leg movement and defensive techniques. Bottom line boxing is a sport I have been obsessed with for the last two decades. This is why I am always extra excited and hard when I hear about a new boxing movie which will be released to the mainstream. Whenever you have such devotion to one sport it is almost sacrilegious feeling when boxing is not depicted in correct or believable way. This brings us to the new installment in boxing movies tradition which saw many wonderful attempts to show the reality of the sport as well many failures. “Southpaw” falls somewhere between this category.
    Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), the reigning junior middleweight boxing champion, has an impressive career, a loving wife and daughter, and a lavish lifestyle. However, when tragedy strikes, Billy hits rock bottom, losing his family, his house and his manager. He soon finds an unlikely savior in Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker), a former fighter who trains the city’s toughest amateur boxers. With his future on the line, Hope fights to reclaim the trust of those he loves the most.
    I must say when you read this premiss you might feel that it is full of clichés and been there done that mind frame and to be quite honest you would be right. This type of redemption stories has been done before and to better effect. There is nothing overly unique about it. With lesser director this film would be just another corny Rocky wanna be but by adding Jake Gyllenhaal and his acting craft, this potentially mediocre film raised beyond the level it was heading to. Originally “Southpaw” was supposed to be a follow up to Eminem’s 8 Mile with Slim Shady resuming the titled role. Thankfully he decided to focus on the music department of the movie and left acting to the professional and let me tell you Jake did fine job portraying a boxer. Specially the out of the ring aspect. His physique is ripped and many months he spent in Wild Card Gym of Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, one of the best in the world, paid off. Watching fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto made a difference in the way he prepared for this role. Usually when it comes to boxing movies the biggest problem actors have is with footwork. It is where boxers generate power from. Without good footwork you can not box effectively and it takes a long time before moving around the ring becomes second nature. Jakes footwork was decent which allowed him to build up on the rest of the boxing technique. The actual fights might not be as well choreographed or shot as in lets say “Raging Bull” masterpiece of Martin Scorsese arguably the best boxing movie ever made. To elaborate on outside boxing issues the story feels very predictable you can almost guess how the movie will end half way through. The other notable performances are led by Forest Whitaker as the washed up trainer though his performance might be largely overlooked because it feels inconsistent. I could dissect the rest of the cast but let me summarize this in one sentence. This film without Jake and good director would be mediocre. Even the title sounds like a gimmick. The title of the film is a reference to the eponymous stance traditionally adopted by a left handed boxer. As previous Rocky movies Jakes character learns as an orthodox fighter to switch to lefty to surprise his big nemesis. This is only one of the clichés I am talking about.
    If you are not a boxing fan I do think you might be swept by the drama of the story and you will root for the underdog but if you have understanding of the fight game you will be fidgeting uncomfortably and will have half backed smirk on your face and it won’t be because you think what you are seeing on the scene is realistic depiction of Sweet Science. “Southpaw” isn’t a bad film by any means but it is not a new Rocky, where with Stallone you could feel that he was a student of the game where this film feels like a dramatization of events which we’ve seen over and over in the past.

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  • There’s no question that in the past couple of years Jake Gyllenhaal has risen to become one of the best actors in Hollywood. Gyllenhaal is someone who’s always been on the rise but I think his last three or four films have shown his terrific range as an actor, particularly his performance in Nightcrawler which in my opinion is the best one of his career.

    In Southpaw, Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, the reigning middleweight boxing champion, who has an impressive career, a loving wife and daughter, and a lavish lifestyle. However, when tragedy strikes, Billy hits rock bottom and begins to fall into depression. When the notion of losing his daughter comes into question Billy decides the best way to get his life back on track is by getting back into the ring.

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  • Jake Gyllenhaal just blows me away. As an actor, he completely transforms himself profusely and in a way, excessively. You watch him play a Travis Bickle type in last year’s Nightcrawler and a pitted fighter in 2015’s Southpaw (my latest review). Honestly, it’s really hard to tell that it’s the same guy. He’s the best and maybe the only reason to see this conventional, sort of Rocky retread, a boxing flick directed by the guy who made Training Day. Yo Adrian guess what, Antoine did it! Antoine did it!

    In terms of storyline and/or premise, Southpaw is a typical take on the whole riches to rags to riches concept. It’s fall from grace and then grace again. The direction is careful, the soundtrack is rap-infused (which sort of kills any dramatic momentum at key points), and the antagonist thwarts the words “b*tch” and “belt” via multiple sentences. There’s blood, there’s sweat, and there’s tears. Oh and Eminem to boot.

    Written by the guy who penned TV’s Sons of Anarchy (Kurt Sutter) and released by The Weinstein Company (this initially, was not the case), “Paw” chronicles scruffy, ripped Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal). He’s the World Light Heavyweight champion, a fighting monster with the mind of a ticking time bomb. Early on in the film, he defends his title. Cut to the next hour and a half and he loses everything that’s important to him. Southpaw unequivocally starts with a devastating twist (which I won’t reveal). Things then detour from cheery sports territory to flat-out, hard drama.

    Now as mentioned earlier, Southpaw procreates the feel and attitude of all six Rocky movies combined. There’s a funeral (just revert back to Mickey kicking the bucket in Rocky III), a final fight sequence (just think of every installment except “V”), a scene where a character is lying dead and no one bothers to help or contact the paramedics (just like when Apollo went down in “IV”), a house getting repossessed (just like when Stallone lost his mansion again in “V”), plenty of bloody and unrealistic fight enactments (this was in every Rocky pic), the obligatory training montage (“I”, “II”, “III”, “IV”, and Rocky Balboa had this), and a villain opponent bent on harassing the hero not to mention his beautiful wife (remember Clubber Lang in “III”?). In truth, the only difference between “Paw” and all things Rocky, is the R rating due to harsher language (Mr. Balboa wasn’t in to spouting off F-words). Oh and N.Y.C. substitutes for Philly this time around.

    Italian Stallion imitations aside, Southpaw is also pretty manipulative when trying to get its point across. The film is loosely based on true events (uh, not really) and it’s a playbook for tragedy. Everything that happens seems inserted or staged to keep the narrative afloat. So OK, let’s take away Billy Hope’s wife (check). Then, let’s take away his kid and give Hope only supervised visits (check). Let’s give him anger issues and have him suspended by the boxing commission (check). Let’s leave him broke and penniless, living in a rundown apartment on 100 whatever street (chickity-check). Let’s give him illegal guns in his mansion and a problem with drugs/alcohol (check-o-slovakia). Oh and let’s foreclose on his humbled abode in record time (I saw this flick with my father. He’s a realtor and he said there’s no way this process could happen so quickly).

    In conclusion, this two hour-plus, depression fest is almost recommendable because of Gyllenhaal’s amazing dedication to his craft. There’s also decent performances involving Forest Whitaker as his reluctant trainer (he plays Titus “Tick” Wills) and rapper 50 Cent as his character’s fight promoter, Jordan Mains. But with its lack of powerful vigor and total lack of flask originality, Southpaw has sadly, gone “south”. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

    Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

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  • The Antoine Fuqua-directed boxing drama Southpaw is penned by Kurt Sutter, the creator of the Shakespearean motorcycle melodrama Sons of Anarchy. Sutter deals in extremes, in the shock and awe of viscera juxtaposed with infinite tenderness. The early rounds of Southpaw bear this out: light-heavyweight champion Billy Hope’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) defense of his title is book-ended by scenes with his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), in whose presence he finds comfort, support, and protection.

    Last we saw Gyllenhaal, he was gaunt and bug-eyed and sniffing for the scent of blood in the air as the parasitic titular Nightcrawler. In Southpaw, Gyllenhaal is a raging bull, muscles aggressively bulged and sheened with blood and sweat, whose plan of attack in the ring is to absorb an extraordinary amount of punishment from his opponent before unleashing his fists of fury. His manager Jordan Mains (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) wants to follow up Billy’s victory with a lucrative contract for a three-fight deal, but Maureen nixes it. Billy’s been taking too many blows, his left eye is barely hanging on, and he slurs and shuffles as if his synapses were firing a beat later than scheduled. He needs a break before a serious injury could leave him incapacitated. What kind of a father would he be for their 11-year-old daughter Leila (a very good Oona Laurence, who bears a striking resemblance to McAdams)?

    McAdams may appear to have a straightforward role, but she is a formidable actress, registering so strongly that when Maureen dies as a result of a brawl between Billy and the trash-talking Miguel (Miguel Gomez), a young gun who wants a chance at Billy’s title, her absence all but cripples the film and one realises too late what a commanding portrait of a street smart woman and a fiercely loving wife and mother McAdams has created.

    From that point forward, it falls on Gyllenhaal to disguise the fact that the rest of Southpaw is essentially in a flatlined state. Maureen’s death triggers Billy’s self-destructiveness which, in turn, results in his suspension from the ring, his bankruptcy, the repossession of his mansion, and Leila being placed in the care of family services. Billy must now prove to the court that he is clean and sober and responsible enough to win back custody of his daughter. To that end, he agrees to be a lowly janitor at a local boxing gym in exchange for being trained by the gym’s owner Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker).

    Whitaker is a fine performer and he and Gyllenhaal share a nice push-and-pull dynamic as Tick teaches Billy to view boxing as a chess game rather than a punch-now-ask-questions-later slugfest, but the filmmakers would have better served the film by jettisoning this section altogether. There’s nothing wrong about following the usual arc of the boxing genre, but Billy’s road to redemption feels strained and unnecessary. (To be honest, given Sutter’s penchant for ugly tribulations, it’s surprising Billy didn’t end up gang-raped in the shower of a maximum security prison.) Part of the problem may be the long shadow cast by Southpaw’s dynamic first half, which provides a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes machinations that have everything to do with the money and very little with the men who put their bodies on the line in the ring.

    Fuqua, a former boxer himself, stirs up all sorts of razzmatazz to plunge viewers in the bowels of the action. Yes, the boxing scenes possess a primal strength and undeniable intensity. Yet the brutality is nothing without a sturdy narrative. Every battle should be representative of the overall tale at hand. Many may accuse the Rocky films of predictable and simplistic hokiness, but Sylvester Stallone knew how to coalesce the narrative in those showdowns. Billy’s climactic bout with Miguel is meant to be both his salvation and a means of avenging Maureen’s death, but one never genuinely receives that impression despite the accompanying chatter from the ringside commentators.

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  • Southpaw is quite well acted and directed. The directing style of Antoine Fuqua is beautiful, the fight scenes look amazing, some of the best boxing fights we had on the big screen. The way the camera is positioned, you really feel you’re in the ring with the fighters and that adds an intensity to the scene. I have no idea if the boxing is true to life, but the action is okay, so no complaints there.

    It’s the rest of the story that’s so absurd. The light heavyweight champ of the world, who’d be worth tens of millions is reduced to penury minutes after his wife dies.

    That wouldn’t be so bad, although still utterly implausible, if Hope had been completely surrounded by crooks and charlatans. However, the main character in his life is his wife, who’s portrayed as having an intense interest in his affairs and as being a paragon of responsibility. It simply doesn’t make sense that she would not have saved some of that money. Indeed, the script clearly suggests they had plenty of money as the wife was urging him to quit fighting so they could enjoy their wealth before he became permanently injured.

    That being said, the movie really falls short in the story section. The screenplay is filled with clichés and predictable elements that you meet in every boxing movie ever made. Also the at some points, the plot becomes overly dramatic, there isn’t a single touch of humor to lighten some of the movie’s scenes.

    I don’t think social services operate in the way depicted in the film. Hope is not abusive towards his daughter, it seems cruel and unusual to separate a child from her father after her mother has been killed. Yet, those same social services are portrayed as being wise and kind. It was just there to thicken the fatuous plot.

    I quite enjoyed the movie. If you’re a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal then this movie is a decent watch, if not, go and re-watch the original Rocky. All in all, this movie gets a 7 out of 10.

  • In the movie Southpaw… the intro verbiage says Hope is a light middle weight champ and during the movie it announced that Hope is the light heavy weight champ. Not remotely believable that Hope is light heavy weight fighter!
    This is as bad as showing someone loading a pistol with dented primers in the supposedly live ammo which the actor immediately goes out and shoots bad guys with… stupid mistakes like this just detracts from what otherwise could be a great movie.

  • Sports dramas are not uncommon among film studios. Almost every sport has received some kind of a film rep at some point. The most popular of these events probably would go to the boxing industry. Much of this was garnered either from actual boxing celebrities like Muhammad Ali or actors who portrayed their character in the ring like Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull (1980). Of the boxing films however, the franchise that would go down as the best known would be Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky (1976) series. What worked with Stallone’s franchise was how well grounded and retable its characters were. For this film, there’s a certain texture that’s brought to the table that not many other filmmakers could put on display for mass audiences. A combo of director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day (2001) and King Arthur (2004) and writer Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy (2008) headed this visual style. And for what it’s worth, everything made in this feature shows that everyone was invested in it. It still has its shortcomings though unfortunately.

    The story is about the tragic fall and redemption of top-of-his-game boxer Billie Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) who loses his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) after a fatal “accident” during a press conference. Making things worse is that his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) is taken into child protection services. The idea itself has been seen before, but again the presentation to how viewers will see this story may feel different. Stallone’s Rocky (1976) had grounded characters; so does Fuqua but he also grounds the very surroundings of the character. Even while Hope’s family lives in luxury, the outside world feels gritty and cold. This is that combination mentioned earlier – Fuqua’s direction and Sutter’s script do a great job at demonstrating just how nasty things can get before anything gets better. That’s also not excluding language and violence. Every scene has a much rougher tone to it, giving it that edge that makes it feel like its more adult oriented. Sadly this is where it falls flat in some places.

    While it is Kurt Sutter’s first screenplay, it is hard not to criticize him for penning a script with such a tough persona and yet following up with a story so safe. Perhaps this is because the premise has practically given everything away before the movie is even seen. When the only turning point in your film for the main character is when a key player is killed off, it kind of sets up the audience to already know how things will end. Everyone enjoys a well-respected return but it’s also very predictable. If the loss of Hope’s wife weren’t announced in the premise, maybe the death would’ve been a little more of a throw-off than a plot setup point. So the question is, why make a script with a tone so hard edge only to play it safe like every sequel made after Rocky (1976)? Sutter’s only other flaw in his script is that after Hope’s loss, the subplot of his wife’s murder goes unsolved. It’s not even mentioned as to if Hope just wants to forget or feels the rematch was enough – but it at least should be mentioned why.

    However, besides these clerical issues everything else does work its best to make you forget about it. Jake Gyllenhaal and Oona Laurence have believable chemistry as a young father and daughter. Gyllenhaal definitely goes all out with his tough guy persona and pulls it off. Considering he’s gone through multiple transformations for a lot of his films, it’s no surprise here. Even for McAdams reduced role, she too is enjoyable to watch. Plus the supporting cast is well worth it. Forest Whitaker and 50 Cent provided good contrasts to the paths Billie Hope could take and whom he sides with in success. Young actor Skylan Brooks also helps bring some development to Gyllenhaal’s role. Then there are appearances from Naomie Harris and Victor Ortiz. As for Hope’s main antagonist Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez), the motivations are very two-dimensional. Although they could have been more developed, the focus was on Billie, not Escobar.

    The boxing matches were well staged and look believable too. There weren’t a lot of matches for anyone who wanted a lot though. Helping make the fights feel as real as possible was Italian cameraman Mauro Fiore, who frequently works with Antoine Fuqua. Not only does Fiore keep the camera steady and only highlight what needs to be lit, but he also changes the perspective of some shots. For example, the camera will shift from a theatrical lens to found footage (but professionally) where the camera would be either Hope or Escobar’s eyes during the fight. Since this involves movement, the camera won’t be steady but it does give the viewer a brief minute to immerse himself or herself into the match as if it were a video game. Lastly, the music composed for the final time by James Horner before his untimely passing is not as immediately recognizable as some of his other works, but it still has its moments. The created tunes can move its audience because of the raw emotion the actors use and how the music plays out with solo piano and strings. A good last effort.

    It does have a lot to be entertained with considering how believable the acting is, the emotional music, involving boxing matches and inventive camerawork. Yet with a tone that indulges in having less fluff, more rough, gruff, tough and buff, the script shouldn’t play it so predictably. The outcome to this film can be seen even before the movie starts.

    Points Earned –> 7:10

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