Film Review: Southpaw

It’s been very nearly a month since I saw Amy, the last film I’ve watched. I think I’d literally reached a point where I felt saturated by the concentration they demand and the subsequent pressure to write these reviews. However, over the past week or so I’ve started to feel a natural draw back towards them. I’ve started to feel like I want to lose myself into their worlds, to debate their stories and feel their emotions once again.

I knew nothing about Southpaw until I saw the trailer before the screening of Mr Holmes and yet, that brief tease was enough to worm the film into my life and make me want to see it. The trailer did it job and I’ve been patiently waiting for it to arrive. It’s pull was strong enough to get me back into the cinema even though the general reviews I’ve heard, including an interview with lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal, did little to suggest the film was actually any good.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) - Southpaw

The first thing that really struck me was Gyllenhaal. His transformation visually from the emaciated character he played in Nightcrawler to the muscle toned boxer in this is remarkable. They are so far apart that I actually found it hard at times to connect them as being the same person. Even more impressive is the fact that I almost instantly forgot it was Gyllenhaal playing “a part”. He became boxer Billy Hope. The character over taking the name and I’d even go as far to say that if people were proclaiming his performance in Nightcrawler to have been awards worthy then this surpasses that by a long, long way.

Alongside Gyllenhaal is Rachel McAdams and Oona Laurence as his wife and daughter and together they form a family dynamic that feels so strong and real and bonded that it my grabbed at every heart string I have and wouldn’t let go. McAdams is stunning and while Laurence felt a little wooden at times, you can forgive her that as when she’s part of the greater collective the sum truly is greater than it’s parts.

Their relationship makes the film and because the opening half of the film is essentially setting up their relationship and family unit it is unsurprising to hear that I found it emotionally powerful and by far the best bit. I sat there empathising, feeling, longing. The values of loyalty and family laid bare in the strongest possible sense. Sadly though it doesn’t last, and while I won’t spoil it (although the trailer does) when that is broken up and taken away the film looses it’s impact and falls apart. It was annoying and frustrating that the emotional power Southpaw builds up disappears so much that characters I’d come to completely side with, feel sorry for and understand transform to such an extent that the only emotion I harboured was contempt. This is most noticeable with Gyllenhaal who became, for me, nothing more than a nasty, vile thug and instead of wanting him to succeed, I lost all interest in his life and what actually happened to him.

Jake Gyllenhaal & Forest Whitaker - Southpaw

This change in tone of the characters arrives at the same time as Forest Whitaker and Naomie Harris. In fact, Harris’s character is dropped in and out without expansion in such a slap handed way that I felt like I wasn’t being given the whole truth. It feels like her character will originally have had a much larger role and her relationship with Gyllenhall expanded upon and yet, for whatever reason, it’s all ended up on the cutting room floor and the result is simply a character that lacks any dimension or place in the film.

Whitaker is worse though. He’s meant to be the realism. The reality of gutter that is there to ground Gyllenhaal, shape his rebirth as it were and remind him, and you, that it’s love and loyalty that are more important than money and ego. But he just doesn’t convince. The passion was just never behind his eyes or his voice. He doesn’t look like he believes in the part and therefore, you don’t believe in him. He never looks weathered or worn. He never looks like he’s really walked the hard miles. He just looks like an actor playing a part.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Boxing) - Southpaw

The constant place that the film shines though is in the ring. The boxing sequences are well choreographed and even though they are a little predictable in the direction they go and the outcomes they will bring I still felt nervous throughout. Even the climax to the big fight had me guessing exactly which way it was going to go right up to the moment it tells you. Every on screen punch and block echoed by your own nervous anticipation and I think manages this because even when Gyllenhaal is the apparent favourite, he is still presented, and fights, in the style of the underdog. Forcing you to be slightly on edge because you never lose that niggling thought at the back of your mind that while things should be fine, but might just not be.

Overall I enjoyed Southpaw. It’s not a bad film but it’s noticeable that the connection you hold with it, and therefore, the enjoyment you get from it, divide up into clearly defined sections. When it’s good, it’s a powerful and emotional story that gets inside you, twisting and turning until truly feel. But when it loses you, when the connection breaks, you withdraw a long way and the film struggles to ever get you back. It’s an interesting story that feels like it’s been poorly edited. It’s worth seeing, for Gyllenhaal especially, but mainly because it’s something different to the major summer blockbuster just don’t expect it to leave you feeling completely satisfied.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

Comments are closed.