While Kurt Sutter did a fantastic job penning the script to FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” his film debut, “Southpaw,” did not live up to the expectations.
“Southpaw” stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Hope, an aging, undefeated boxer who must bounce back from rock bottom after his wife’s (Rachel McAdams) death and losing his daughter (Oona Laurence) to child protective services.
Gyllenhaal’s character is written into nearly every negative stereotype involving boxers. He is aggressive, overbearing and has anger management issues. As a viewer, you only want him to succeed before you see his life fall flat first hand, but as a character, he isn’t incredibly likable.
Aside from this, Gyllenhaal has continues to impress in his recent films. Most notably, Gyllenhaal nailed the slurred, punch-drunk speech patterns that plagues aging boxers, especially those who took punches the way Hope did.
To make matters worse, the film seems to work in every overdone Hollywood redemption cliche possible. Both Hope and his wife grew up in an orphanage and know rock bottom, his trainer, Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), is a washed-up ex-trainer of professional fighters who is almost Mr. Miyagi like in his training.
As Hope hits rock bottom, he makes his comeback bid to boxing by training with Wills, who now molds novice pugilists. With Wills, Hope learns how to treat boxing more as a game of chess rather than an offensive assault. This would make sense in a story if Hope was a young, raw boxer who has hit a rough patch, but it is impossible to imagine that a man who is considered one of the best fighters ever has no idea how to play defense, especially in a sport where if you don’t play defense your opponent will turn your face into a sirloin after going through a battle with a meat tenderizer. Floyd Mayweather is 48-0 and is widely considered one of the greatest defensive boxers of all time. Mike Tyson, who was an offensive juggernaut, had difficulty adjusting in his later years when his opponents figured out how to defend him. There is now way Hope was as good as he was without being a sound defender.
The film also overplays Hope’s downfall and it takes out a huge chunk of the middle of the film, depressing the viewer and offering zero comic relief or something to look forward to in the film. Hope loses his wife, his money, his manager (50 Cent), and his grip on reality all before losing his daughter. While I don’t expect the film to present a light at the end of the tunnel or a silver lining, it is unnecessary for it to be so drawn out.
It is also hard to see exactly how Hope lost all of his money so quickly after his wife’s death. He won a fight at the start of the film, so he earned some income which has to be in the millions given a fighter of his caliber, and made no apparent poor investments.
While most of actors in the film performed well, 50 Cent just seems out of place. He is underwhelming, bone dry and almost completely unnecessary in the film. He fails to develop any on-screen chemistry with Gyllenhaal or McAdams despite playing a character who has been close to Gyllenhaal’s character throughout his entire boxing career.
Unfortunately, Gyllenhaal’s performance was not enough to save “Southpaw,” which is essentially an undercard when compared to the slew of main event thrilling boxing films that have been released over the years. It doesn’t pack the punch to be considered anything but a summer popcorn flick.