Antoine Fuqua is one of my favourite directors, with films under his belt such as Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen and The Equalizer, his films boast stunning action, intensely gripping drama and a gritty, realistic style. Southpaw, Fuqua’s latest film, sadly doesn’t contain his usual flair. It’s such a shame because the trailers had me hooked, and I love films about fighters finding redemption and the training they must go through, however Southpaw didn’t hook me, and there are only a few sequences where the fighting and build-up felt powerful.
I should’ve written this review sooner. Having seen it in cinema months back, I now distinctly remember the disappointment and underwhelming feel I experienced leaving the screening. Before Southpaw, I had the pleasure of watching Warrior, an absolute masterpiece in mixing intense family drama and brutal MMA fighting, and thanks to masterful performances from Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Egerton and Jennifer Morrison, it has stuck with me since, as well as the 2010 film The Fighter. When I heard Southpaw was coming out, a film similar to Warrior and The Fighter, I had to see it. It’s a real shame Southpaw doesn’t live up to those great films, nor does it do anything special or particularly memorable to set itself apart.
Starting off with the good, the cast are excellent. Jake Gyllenhaal got ripped, like crazy! You have to admire his devotion to a role, especially in recent memory with films like Nightcrawler and Enemy. Bulking up and thinning out, he dives into his roles. In Southpaw, Gyllenhaal is utterly convincing as boxer Billy Hope, a man who has everything until his wife dies, his daughter is taken away by the court as well as his house and possessions. His performance is very intense and at times a hard watch, especially when he is crying on his bed with a loaded gun in view. I love it when Gyllenhaal steps into the ring, it’s like watching a feral animal let off the leash.
Forrest Whittaker is good, but nothing special, it feels like an Oscar-baiting kind of role but it just a generic trainer/teacher role we’ve seen before. 50 Curtis Jackson Cent adds some style with a relaxed performance, it’s a shame, though, that Naomie Harris, an actress of immense talent, is given a thankless role with no meat. Why cast such a great actress for a role with no emotional charge? Rachel McAdams is fantastic, if there was an award for “best death scene” it should go to her, her final scene when she bites the dust is terrifying, heartfelt and realistic. Leila Hope is a terrific find, a wonderful performance, and again delivers when it comes to the hard hitting moments, take the scene where she hits her father shouting I hate you over and over.
Strong performances aside and some well shot slow motion training montages, Southpaw suffers from a boring story and questionable lighting choices. The story is just very bland, we all know it. A fighter with immense skill loses everything and builds his way back up and wins. There are no spoilers or twists in me telling you that, I wasn’t surprised at anything here. As for the lighting choices, there is an over abundance of murky interior shots that at times are barely visible, even if this is intentional it added nothing to the story or visual look. The soundtrack is decent however, with Eminem’s “Phenomenal” playing over the finale in a rather impressive montage that shows Gyllenhaal getting amped and ready. Shame that amped and ready wasn’t something I should be feeling.