Director Antonie Fuqua has displayed diversity in his work as a filmmaker. That diversity hasn’t always hit the mark, but one constant trait is a narrative full of grit and a visual that hits you straight in the jugular. Fuqua became a name to remember with his hard-hitting cop drama Training Day, since that effort he has flirted with various other feature films and with Southpaw the director returns to genre filmmaking. The 2015 movie is not a completely rewarding effort but it tackles the sport well and will leave you satisfied.
Southpaw has the story, the leading man – and even the theme song – to please any hardcore boxing fan. Jake Gyllenhaal is an absolute triumph as 4-time lightweight world champion Billy Hope. The protagonist is hungry for the win and loyal to his family, made up of wife Maureen (Rachael McAdams in a short but poignant role) and daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Hope grew up in the system and stands as a kind of poster child for rebellious youth made good, he rides that wave as one of the most famous sportsmen in the world. If you’ve seen the trailer you’ll know the rest for, unfortunately, there isn’t much touched upon in the full feature that goes amiss in the promotional teaser.
The film follows the formula of most boxing features but when done right this structure is an instant win. As an audience we see Hope go from having it all, to losing it all, to fighting (literally) to attain the former once more. The issue is the slow pace of the first half which eventually picks up once Forest Whitaker’s Tick Wills is introduced. You guessed it, Whittaker is the owner of a gym and he reluctantly becomes Hope‘s trainer. Gyllenhaal shares a touching chemistry with his co-star as together they embark on the boxers journey to emotional recovery. The leading man embodies his character appropriately and while he’s not entirely likeable his charectarisation is real and gritty as hell.
Fuqua knows how to direct his actors and because of this he prompts the best performance possible from all involved, with Laurence and McAdams both putting in stand-out supporting roles. While the ensemble is one of complete strength (and Hollywood appeal) – and a star might even have born in the shape of Oona Laurence – the story by Kurt Sutter lacks in all areas. There are several themes that could have been successfully explored, but the narrative becomes cliched and side-stories are never fully realised. The pacing is all wrong and there’s too much time spent studying a gym, rather than the people inside of it.
This is a good effort but it hasn’t got a patch on recent success story Creed.