Southpaw (2015)

(Video on Demand, November 2015)  With a few modifications, Southpaw would have made a splendid Rocky II: It begins with a boxer in the prime of his life, winning fights, enjoying his money, loving his wife and doting on his daughter.  But it doesn’t take much for all of it to be taken away, and much of the film is spent going through this riches-to-rags story and then looking on as the protagonist digs himself out of the hole he’s fallen into.  It’s a relatively familiar story (although the triggering incident twenty minutes in the film will surprise many who haven’t seen the trailer), but it’s generally well-executed enough.  What really shines here is Jake Gyllenhall, physically pumped-up and ripped to a degree that may shock fans who aren’t used to seeing him in such peak condition: beyond the physique, he brings his usual intensity to a role far more aggressive than most of his previous performances and the result is often mesmerizing.  (Compare him in Prisoners, Enemy and Nightcrawler for an astonishing slice of filmography spanning just three years)  Forest Whitaker and Rachel McAdams don’t exactly stretch themselves in supporting roles, but they each bring what they do best.  Curtis “50 Cents” Jackson and Naomi Harris have all-too-brief minor roles, while Oona Laurence is remarkable in a tough child performance.  Director Antoine Fuqua thankfully leaves some familiar tics behind in delivering Southpaw (it’s not quite a gratuitously violent nor as obsessed with police elements as many of his previous films, or instance) and he’s able to direct familiar boxing scenes with a good amount of power.  It’s not quite a feel-good film (despite the triumphant ending, viewers will have to crawl along a lot of mud alongside its protagonist to get to the good parts) but it’s satisfying enough.  Southpaw’s not meant to be subtle, but it lands its punches.

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