With the release of Southpaw in UK cinemas this weekend, the critics are divided about the boxing film. IMDb has awarded the film a highly satisfactory rating of 8.3, yet Rotten Tomatoes retaliates with a below average 42%. Viewing this film has accumulated into a gamble, receiving some slamming responses versus positive opinions; what gives >Southpaw Such a complicated response?
Directed by Antoine Fuqua whose other film credits include Olympus Has Fallen and The Equalizer, the film has an excellent premise. Fuqua’s previous films, including gritty violence and action, are successes, meanwhile he has a background in boxing. This is surely an asset when directing a movie about boxing. Unfortunately, according to some critics, no.
Critics are claiming the plot is melodramatic. Protagonist Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), is at the top of his game when a sudden violent outburst at a post-awards reception causes his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), to be fatally shot. The film following this, involves an unnecessary underdog story as the hero loses his money, his title and those dearest to him, and fights to gain it all back.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s demise as Billy Hope is undoubtedly painful just from the trailer as he spirals into drug use, finally losing his daughter, played by Oona Laurence, to social services. The sheer contrast of his new circumstances and dirty environment to the life of luxury he led with the woman he loved is clear, bringing with it a punch of what we take for granted. Furthermore, daughter Leila’s anger and resentment allegedly only injects the film with extra drama for our protagonist as he tries to reconcile with her, giving the sense the film is only using her as a prop to instigate more heartbreak.
Instead of grasping the genre by the horns as evidenced in other boxing films The Fighter and Million Dollar Baby, the film’s plot is lack-lustre and uninspired, naturally drawing the focus to Jake Gyllenhaal’s own incredible work. His turn in Nightcrawler is not even recognizable. The glaring images of him bleeding from the gums, roaring at the camera, is crude yet instantly engaging, helping us believe he really is the light heavyweight boxing champion.
Not only this but Gyllenhaal’s physical transformation proves how seriously he takes his craft as an actor. Similarly, McAdams has been praised for her performance and it has been stated the chemistry between herself and Gyllenhaal was strong, regretfully disappearing too soon. Forest Whitaker is Billy’s solace when he shows up at his gym desperate for a job. From there, they work together to bring back Billy Hope… the finale hopefully is as profound as the clichés.
The summer release for Southpaw couldn’t have been better timed; the summer is known for the dip in cinematic prowess, yet hopefully this film’s dramatic onslaught of testosterone will surely shake us all out of our lethargy. Even so, the film’s melodramatic story arc diminishes the powerful performances on display. In my opinion it doesn’t seem worth the gamble.