Jake Gyllenhaal is pounding, pummeling prizefighter in ‘Southpaw’
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams & Forrest Whittaker
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
The first thing you see in Southpaw is quite literal—it’s the left hand, the “south paw,” of boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), as he prepares to enter the ring at Madison Square Garden.
That paw, and its awesome knockout power, has lifted Hope from his humble, hardscrabble orphanage origins to the top of the prizefighting world, where he now reigns as the light heavyweight champ. But how much more pounding, pummeling, bruising and bleeding can the champ take—and give?
As he comes home from another victorious match, his precious young daughter (Oona Laurence) gets up from her bed and puts on her glasses to better see the his fresh scars and cuts.
“The more you get hit, the harder you fight, I get it,” his beautiful wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams) tells him, pleading with him to stop—or at least take a long break.
Billy’s manager (rapper 50 Cent) prods him in a different direction. “If it makes money, it makes sense,” he says, urging him to sign a three-year, three-fight, $30 million deal with HBO. A cocky young Columbian upstart (Miguel Gomez) itches for a fight. “You ain’t ever been hit by a real man!” he taunts him. Maureen warns Billy of his swirl of hangers-on, warning him they will scatter like “cockroaches” once his bubble of money and success bursts.
And burst it does, and worse, in a tragic and terrible turn of events. Hope is dethroned, forced to give up his home and stripped of everything that ever meant anything to him. Starting again from the bottom, he works with a demanding trainer (Forrest Whittaker) to try to put the pieces of his crashed, crumbled life together again.
It’s a classic tale told anew, and not without its share of clichés. But Gyllenhaal is phenomenal, adding yet another role to his growing resume of parts that it’s hard to imagine going to any other actor (although rapper Eminem was reportedly considered). With a shaved head, 200 pounds of ripped and rippling muscle, a billboard of tattoos across his body and a perennially banged-up face, he’s almost unrecognizable. But it’s impossible to take your eyes off him.
Working from an original story by Kurt Sutter, the creator/writer/producer/director of TV’s Sons of Anarchy, director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer) weaves a powerful human drama about home and family into the framework of a dynamic, rousing boxing saga. A soundtrack of tunes from Eminem, the Notorious B.I.G., Busta Rhymes and other hip-hop artists helps set the scene in today’s f-bombing, bling-a-fied realm of modern sports, a world away from The Champ, Raging Bull and Rocky. The camerawork and choreography of the fighting scenes are outstanding—and so realistic, you’ll probably be checking your garments for splat and spatter when you leave the theater.
It may not be everyone’s idea of relaxing, uplifting escapist matinee balm. But above and beyond the brutal, visceral slaps, jabs, and upper cuts is a bigger, softer story, a tale of a father and a daughter on a journey of emotional homecoming that packs quite a punch of its own.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine