Monday, August 3, 2015

Southpaw

1.5/4

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forrest Whittaker, Oona Laurence, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Rachel McAdams, Miguel Gomez, Naomie Harris

Rated R for Language Throughout, and Some Violence

I like Jake Gyllenhaal.  A whole lot.  He's such a powerful and versatile young actor, and he's more than willing to take chances with his career ("Donnie Darko," his breakout role, is a prime example).  He has worked so hard to bring Billy Hope, the character that he plays in this movie, to life that it pains me to say that it's all for naught.  He's caught in a tired screenplay and a director who takes things far too seriously.

Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) is the lightweight champion of the world.  He's fabulously wealthy, famous, and has a loving wife Maureen (McAdams) and daughter Leila (Laurence).  However, when a challenge from a rival, Miguel "Magic" Escobar (Gomez) ends in a blow to his ego, Billy gets into a brutal fistfight.  Guns are pulled and Maureen is shot by accident.  She dies in his arms.  Billy sinks into a deep depression and agrees to go back into the ring for the money, but his heart isn't in it.  Not only does he lose his title, he loses everything else, including the custody of Leila.  Now back on the streets, he goes to the coach of the one man who beat him as a young fighter (this may have been due to corruption, but the movie isn't clear on this): Tick Wills (Whittaker).  But redemption is hard to come by.

The screenplay by Kurt Sutter is Depressing Sports Movie 101.  Tragedy, fall from grace, struggle for redemption...you know the drill.  There's nothing inherently wrong with it in and of itself.  But the characters are shallow types (despite the valiant efforts of the cast), the tone is relentlessly downbeat, and the pacing is sluggish.

Jake Gyllenhaal certainly gives it his all here, and that's commendable.  Billy has anger issues and is not the brightest bulb in the bunch.  But he loves his wife and daughter.  Oona Laurence is credible as his daughter, not being too cute and for the most part avoiding overacting that comes with young actors.  Forrest Whittaker is his reliable self, and 50 Cent, while convincing as a man whose friendships are based on who he can profit from, suffers from stiff (and occasionally inaudible) dialogue delivery.  The scene-stealer is Rachel McAdams.  Now that she has grown out of her matinee idol phase, she can continue to hone in and develop her talents.  This is quite possibly her best performance, but unfortunately she's gone after the first half hour.  Naomie Harris appears as Leila's case worker, but she has nothing to do (see "The First Grader" for an example of her talents).

Antoine Fuqua's talents as a director are limited.  Of his films, only "Training Day" and "Shooter" are worth seeing, and even they aren't anything to rave about.  He's a notch above a director-for-hire, albeit only a slight notch.  He adds some nice stylistic touches here and there, and the fight scenes are well-presented.  But the movie is so grim that it becomes a joyless affair.  One in which there are no characters to care about and where we know exactly what is going to happen.

If you are hungering for a boxing movie, watch "Girlfight" instead.

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