Southpaw – This Gritty Boxing Drama Just Misses The Mark

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.

jake gyllenhaal and rachel mcadams in southpaw

jake gyllenhaal and rachel mcadams in southpaw

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.

Southpaw – the trailer

This week on Filmfookingcrazy is all about trailers. I love a good trailer – who doesn’t? I’ve come across a lot of articles in the past about great trailers, and films don’t quite live up to them. While I could sit and rant for ages about teasers that I loved, and features that didn’t deliver, today’s short ramble is going to be about the up-and-coming boxing drama Southpaw. Anton Fuqua’s film looks promising, and the trailer is looking even better – lets talk through why.

While the initial trailer gives away what most seem to think is the whole film – for Rachel McAdams’s part in the feature is obviously short – Fuqua’s drama appears to encompass a lot more then meets the eye. Themes of grief, family and respect (to name but a few) seem to dominate the trailer, and Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy “The Great” Hope looks on form as a disheveled champion fighting to re-gain his title – and his life. Known for bringing a level of sentiment often missing in many male actors, Gyllenhaal looks as though he channels the rough edges and emotion he is so applauded for in his role here.

Soundtracks are always key, too. Not just in the finished product, but in the teasers and trailers leading up to it. Southpaw doesn’t let us down and boasts its own single. Sung by Eminem and named Phenomenal, can we expect the same come the end of viewing Fuqua’s film? Gritty urban backdrops serve their purpose as a reminder of the underbelly of boxing and Southpaw looks set to be a stand-out in an array of sport dramas that have weaved in and out of cinemas over the past decade.