Southpaw gets a couple of things right around a solid Jake Gyllenhaal performance, but its misery porn laden mess of a script sinks most everything going for it.
***Spoilers Ahead, for a Film Whose Trailer Spoiled Everything?***
Why did Southpaw have to kill Rachel McAdams’ wife character Maureen Hope? McAdams and Gyllenhaal, playing boxer Billy Hope, had a solid, even if familiar, chemistry going between the two of them and the story goes completely off the rails once she exits the film. And she exits pretty damn quickly. The real thing of it is, McAdams’ death, shot by a mysterious second party at a gala for the boys and girls home the Hopes came out of, is never resolved or brought up as a particular plot point after she is gone. Instead, her death is just a catalyst for horrible thing, after horrible thing to happen to Billy and his daughter so the film can try to make you feel sad for them.
And boy do horrible things start to happen. Billy, literally, loses everything but a couple of pictures and the clothes on his back due to a series of bad decisions/incidents, all while the film ignores reality to pile on the misery we and Billy are supposed to feel about his life. Everyone abandons him in his crew (yet are all back at his side for the final fight?), his lifelong friend and manager just up and decides to go turncoat on him, and the film declares his career over after his first loss ever, even though he is 40 something and 0 and been a champ for years.
The script avoids logic at all costs, at almost all times, to try to make you feel horrible about Billy and his situation, no matter what it had established before hand. Cute kid helping Billy at the new gym: killed off-screen in a last-ditch effort to convince Billy’s new trainer to train him. Daughter doesn’t want to be separated from her father at all costs: suddenly doesn’t even want to see him and throws the “you should have died, not Mom” line at him.
Billy would be so rich after the career he has had and seems to live a, relatively, modest lifestyle managed by his responsible wife, but the instant Maureen dies Billy apparently no money? What? I guess this is what happens when you have 50 Cent as your manager. This is only the tip of the iceberg, I’m shocked Billy didn’t have a dog that got run over by the moving trucks when they repossessed everything he owns in his house.
If the film wanted to show Billy lose all of his things, fine, but I still don’t see why Maureen had to go. They don’t even solve the crime or hint that something nefarious might have been in play. The film could have had them lose everything without her dying do to some money guy/manager screwing them over and been about the weight of the family losing everything they’ve earned and worked for and how they overcome that on the comeback trail. Instead, the film resorts to a “I want my daughter back” plotline while Billy is mentored by a token old black guy trainer that we don’t even meet for half the movie. If I can give the film any credit in its storytelling, I appreciated they didn’t give Billy the obligatory end of act 2 back slide, that would have put me in to walk out territory.
So the story of the film doesn’t work, what about the boxing? Well, that isn’t all that great either. It’s fine, Gyllenhaal looks the part and the fighting looks legit, but there are only four fights in the film and all of them go about how you would have expected. The training bits with Forest Whitaker’s trainer character, Tick Willis (the names in this movie, they use the Hope last name as egregiously as you would expect), are the best parts of the movie, but it is pretty hard to mess up boxing training montages. Director Antoine Fuqua never really settles on a style to shoot the fights in and is over reliant on this top down perspective that divorces us from the action and intensity of Gyllenhaal’s portrayal as Hope. There is one pretty cool shot in the final fight though, super, phantom camera, slow-mo. Wish he mixed that in a bit more, more visually interesting than the first person stuff we get.
I don’t know what much else to say about Southpaw. With this cast you would hope for something special, but Fuqua and his team get stuck in clichés and never try to tell a story; they just want you to feel bad. Gyllenhaal is good in the role, as was McAdams while we had her, but they aren’t good enough that I would really recommend the movie. You know a film is a mess when the title of the movie is named after a style/move that is used exactly once in the movie.