At the Cannes Film Festival, Harvey Weinstein publicly predicted that Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler,” “Prisoners”) would get a Best Actor nomination as light-heavyweight champion Billy “The Great” Hope. In preparation for this arduous role, Gyllenhaal bulked up and worked out with boxers Victor Ortiz and Miguel Gomez. Read on…
As his saga begins, Billy’s idyllically happy with a wonderful wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), and precocious young daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence). But his world comes crashing down when Maureen is accidently killed after Billy confronts taunting Miguel Escobar (Gomez) after a charity dinner.
Billy’s anger and despair leads to suspension and substance abuse. His promoter/manager (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) quits and Leila is placed into the care of family services.
Determined to win back custody of his daughter, Billy finds a rundown gym, owned by gruff Titus ‘Tick’ Willis (Forest Whitaker), who agrees to train him for a comeback, teaching him to control his emotional volatility.
“Boxing isn’t about this,” Tick says, indicating his fist. “It’s about this,” he continues, pointing to his head, “It’s a game of chess.”
Obviously obsessed by masculine aggression and brutal violence, writer Kurt Sutter (TV’s “Sons of Anarchy”) and director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “The Equalizer”) dwell on physical brutality and intense realism.
And cinematographer Mauro Fiore films the bruising, bloody fight scenes like pay-per-view television, complete with commentaries by Jim Lampley and Roy Jones Jr.
While Gyllenhaal garners deserved praise for his dedicated work, the part was originally meant for Eminem., who came from the streets, had boxing experience, along with a real-life daughter, and overcame the death of his childhood friend/fellow rapper, Proof, who was shot and killed in 2006.
When Eminem bowed out, so did DreamWorks. So the project was in turnaround until Harvey Weinstein bought in, bringing Antoine Fuqua and Jake Gyllenhaal. And that’s how movies get made.
If you like boxing movies, along with “Rocky,” I’d recommend “Raging Bull,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Fighter” – all far better than this.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10 “Southpaw” is a seriously slick, sweaty, strenuous 6, filled with extreme spiritual and physical suffering on the road to revenge and redemption.