Southpaw is a film that’s been a long time in the making. Starting life as the brainchild of writer Kurt Sutter and (bizarrely) rapper Eminem, it was spurred on by director Antoine Fuqua’s determination that it should be more than “just another boxing movie”. Eminem was the film’s intended star until he dropped out, and it’s a good thing he did, because without Gyllenhaal’s performance, Southpaw would indeed be just another boxing movie.
Southpaw is a fairly typical comeback story. Big-shot Billy “The Great” Hope has it all: he’s the world Light Heavyweight Boxing champ; he has a beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams), an absurdly large house and a sweet daughter (Oona Laurence) – until he loses it all. Billy hits rock bottom in a big way and turns to Tick (Forest Whitaker), a retired trainer, to help him win back his self-respect and, more importantly, custody of his daughter. The story isn’t too imaginative but it’s a tried-and-tested formula that manages to be immersive, heart-wrenching and gripping despite its cliché-laden plot.
The fight scenes are where Southpaw is at its best. They look, feel, and are shot as though they are real matches; they’re not overdramatic or played up to be anything more than what they are. Gyllenhaal is phenomenal, once again proving he’s one of the most versatile actors around. Billy’s struggles feel authentic, and it’s immensely satisfying to watch him pick himself up. Forest Whitaker gives his standard act, and Oona Laurence gives a great performance as Billy’s daughter, Leila.
Outside of that there’s nothing too standout and the script is disappointingly buttoned-down. Southpaw may not have fully achieved its goal of being more than just another boxing movie, but it certainly has a lot of heart. With a snappier script and some performances to rival Gyllenhaal’s, it may have been able to punch above its weight. As it stands, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable film.
Southpaw is released nationwide on 24th July 2015.
Watch the trailer for Southpaw here: