After his wife is tragically murdered, champion boxer Billy Hope begins a downwards spiral, losing his house, his career and his only daughter. Billy must train and fight back to reclaim his former glory and prove that he can be a worthy father to his young daughter.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) proves once again that he's one of the best actors there is. Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, an undefeated champion in the ring who loses everything. Gyllenhaal puts his everything into this role and it's up there as one of his best ever. Physically he transforms and he takes on a completely different persona than we've ever seen from him, much like he did with 2014's Nightcrawler, he's almost unrecognizable. When Billy's daughter is taken into the custody of child protective services, he vows to change his ways and begins to train with Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) who teaches him more than just how to compose himself inside the ring, but also how to become a better man. This is easily the finest performance of 2015 so far, Gyllenhaal really puts 100% into this role and made me care a lot more than I would have in the hands of any other actor, he's truly phenomenal.
The supporting cast also do a fantastic job, Rachel McAdams (True Detective), Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels' The Butler), Naomie Harris (Spectre), Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson (Escape Plan) and the young Oona Laurence (Orange Is The New Black) who plays Billy's daughter all do a great job here, there isn't a weak link when it comes to the performances. Oona Laurence surprisingly delivers such a passionate, real and heartbreaking performance as Layla, she obviously also suffered like Billy and is dealing with it in a very different way and it was probably the most emotional aspect of the film.
Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) directs the film and does a very good job, whilst the film follows familiar sports movie tropes and is ultimately quite predictable, it's extremely exciting, so much so that you may find yourself wanting to clap and cheer a few times during the actual boxing scenes. Fuqua's big accomplishment here though is his direction for Gyllenhaal, he gets the very best out of this incredible actor. The predictability of Southpaw in no way lessened my enjoyment of the film, the relationship between Billy and his daughter, Layla, was the films emotional core and was the main reason for the story. The boxing matches although exciting and well directed, are not the biggest reason to go and see the film. Obviously the boxing matches are a big draw for the film and thankfully they're done very well! Fuqua lets the action play out, using wide shots, slow motion and close ups when necessary, bringing you right into the heart of each and every fight.
There was a risk of Fuqua simply packing in too much drama here, but every tear shed, every bruise gained and every drop of blood spilled makes sense within the story. The movie is heavy with drama and Fuqua does an excellent job of not hitting you over the head with it. The film isn't melodramatic and overly depressing, it's all emotionally coherent and there are more than a couple of times where I was getting choked up.
Southpaw is a story of redemption and it's a pretty great one. Albeit a little predictable but it's endlessly exciting, captivating and Gyllenhaal's performance makes this a must see for 2015!
Have you seen Southpaw? If so, what did you think about it? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @JamesPorter97