Movie Review: ‘SOUTHPAW’ Doesn’t Rise Above Formula But Packs An Emotional Punch

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Preston Barta // Features Editor


SOUTHPAW | 123 min | R
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence, Oona Laurence, 50 Cent and Miguel Gomez

We all know the standard formula of boxing movies: One goes from being at the top to the bottom, training, training, training, drama, drama, drama, and one last fight to get back on top. SOUTHPAW doesn’t push the formula very much. However, every so often you’ll come across a sports film that manages to find the right balance of action and drama. When fights are justified with stories full of enough crushing emotion that they become all the more intense and gratifying.

The story is as expected: Jake Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, a boxer who is at the top of his game until tragedy strikes, causing his life to crumble around him. From there, Hope must find a way back in the game and reclaim his former glory.

Gyllenhaal, who has been on fire lately with his role picks, continues to prove his worth in Hollywood. His turn is powerful and the other actors all play well off him. And while Gyllenhaal is the clear standout here, Forest Whitaker gives his best performance since he won the Oscar back in 2007 for THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND (2006). Whitaker has always been able to bring tenderness to his roles, but here, as Hope’s trainer, he finds a way into your heart and nestles there.

Forest Whitaker and Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw. Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

Forest Whitaker and Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw. Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

As for problems, there’s the obvious formula that comes with its fair share of predictability. There are also moments where the film becomes a bit heavy handed in its approach to what the audience should be feeling. But at the same time, screenwriter Kurt Sutter, who created and wrote for the hit FX show SONS OF ANARCHY, doesn’t make anything glaring enough that it completely takes away from the enjoyment that is to be had. Of course, Sutter packs his stories with cheese from time-to-time, but you buy into it.

The wonderful score brought by the late and great James Horner (may he rest in peace) is also worthy of mention. Certain tones sound familiar, bringing you back to the warm, buttery feeling you got with TITANIC (1997), while others are ice cold like TROY (2004) or BRAVEHEART (1995). Horner really elevates each scene, whether audiences are supposed to feel concerned, despairing or cheerful. He hits all the right notes (no pun intended).

SOUTHPAW not only shows the strong acting abilities of the entire party involved; it tells a story that displays how sometimes the world’s strongest forces are insignificant in comparison to the troubles of a scarred family. In the end, it’s the audience who wins, for SOUTHPAW is an engaging presentation of an adrenaline-pumping, powerful tale.

SOUTHPAW opens tonight at 8 p.m. in participating theaters and nationwide tomorrow.

No trailer, as it spoils too much.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.