Movie transformations are usually impressive, whether it’s Christian Bale’s for The Machinist or Charlize Theron’s for Monster. Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformation to play champion boxer Billy Hope in Southpaw is a lot more impressive when you contrast it with his previous film. Last year Gyllenhaal could be seen playing the wiry sociopath, Louis Bloom, in Nightcrawler. His performance was nothing short of astonishing there. Here, Gyllenhaal keeps good on his promise of being one of the best working actors today.
Southpaw begins with Billy Hope at the top of his game. He defends and keeps his title as his caring wife (Rachel McAdams) watches anxiously from the sidelines. It’s clear that she wants him to get out of the profession before it’s too late. After a tragic event leaves Hope with nothing, and could result in him losing his daughter for good, he realises that he needs to work to get his life back on track in order to keep what’s most important to him.
It seems to be common place lately that many trailers are filled with spoilers. Most recently, the main plot twist of Terminator Genisys was shown in the trailers. Sadly most of the plot for Southpaw is also featured in the film’s advertisements. So if you haven’t seen the trailer for Southpaw before you plan on seeing the film itself, lucky you. Surely this new trend affects the audience’s level of enjoyment of the film, after all isn’t the point of a trailer to tease the audience and leave them wanting more?
There is a lot to like about Southpaw, but there are also a few flaws. I’m happy to report that the pros outweigh the cons. Antoine Fuqua has done a great job directing, especially the fight scenes which are normally something I would find myself zoning out of. The use of the POV shots during the fight scenes is quite innovative. The late James Horner provides the score, which is subtle but still affecting and adds a nice touch to the more dramatic scenes.
The main problems with the film could really be attributed to the shoddy trailer work. Because of this, not much of the film was overly surprising. It ticks basically every box of the sports drama genre, and so it adds nothing new. Yes, there’s even the stereotypical training montage to be found here. Yet to the film’s merit, it still managed to be engaging throughout and I feel that’s due to the fine work of the actors.
The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and McAdams is one of the film’s highlights, and provides the emotional core that sports dramas are often missing or seems forced when it’s present. Not here. Gyllenhaal’s performance is ferocious, and could easily see him Oscar nominated next year. He’s simply that good. Rachel McAdams provides a fleeting, but stellar performance that finds her cast against type. The actress is doing some of her best work this year as she’s also the lead of the hit HBO show True Detective.
Verdict: Though it’s clichéd and slightly predictable, the film manages to remain engaging.Southpaw is further proof that Gyllenhaal will be remembered as one of the greats of his generation.