My review is more a 3.5 than it is a 3
Thanks for reading!
[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]
Southpaw is a 2015 American sports drama film directed by Antoine Fuqua, written by Kurt Sutter and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker and Rachel McAdams. The film follows a boxer who sets out to get his life back on track after losing his wife in an accident and his young daughter to protective services.
The start this review with one of these films’ strongpoints: Jake Gyllenhaal's ‘Billy’) performance. Gyllenhaal is noted to me as a master of demanding emotional immersion, and this role was of no exception. There's no guessing as to how he feels in specific scenes as the story develops because it is written in even the smallest details - like the way his eyebrows move - on his face. His body language is equally matched, and is never unnecessarily exaggerated. There is a gravity that develops around his character that is heart-wrenching and desires a higher-than-usual amount of connection from the audience that other actors may not be able to conjure with such consistency.
[MAJOR SPOILERS START HERE]
I have a few complaints about this movie in regards to it storytelling elements, and the one I have the biggest problem with is its pacing. Billy’s wife, Maureen (McAdams), Is shown a contract regarding fights he may be scheduled for in the future if he signs it and she refuses it out right. Billy is challenged to a match by a rookie fighter (Which,Billy doesn’t entertain as worthwhile). Maureen is shot and killed at a charity event this challenger just happens to be at (whom Billy gets into an altercation with). Billy starts to lose his possessions and run out of a steady flow of income.. Billy is reminded of this contract as a way to “fix” his financial situation (He refuses, again). Billy crashes his car and is presumed to be intoxicated. His child is taken into custody by CPS. He joins the gym with the intention of having a job and training for fights at the same time. He is denied twice the privilege of having custody of his daughter granted or having his visitation restrictions lifted. He's offered the opportunity to fight the same man that was suspiciously present when his wife got killed. He asks for help training for this event from the Gym owner: Tick (Whitaker). Tick refuses. An important character in Tick’s life dies. Tick changes his mind and agrees to train Billy.
…..Sorry to put so many spoilers in a row because I absolutely usually try to avoid that, but I feel like I had to to illustrate this point. This film seems so interested in getting from point A to point B that the chaos is almost used as a replacement for character development that would have been appropriate given the circumstances. Other people may not agree, but this is not a scenario in which melodramatics help the film move in a way that is seamless.
This is sort of related to the point I've already made, but the dialogue also suffered from this need to be emotionally heavy at all times. More specifically, the dialogue is unusually snippy and doesn't always match the tone of the scene we are watching or it changes the tone in a way that doesn't feel natural. The clearest example of this Is when Billy is visiting his daughter (supervised) and she (Leila) is told she is not allowed to come watch Billy fight due to expectations her mother had previously put in place. Leila Is understandably upset at this news, but she starts saying things like “You should have been the one that was killed, not mom!” with no suggestion in the first place that she has this much anger harbored towards him. Other audience members may argue that this is a result of complex emotions the characters are attempting to make sense of, but because we don’t get any Insight regarding this process I'm just not able to give the director the benefit of the doubt.
[SPOILERS END HERE]
Storytelling and content wise (Because, I will say, this is a good story) I would give this film a 3. My bias and love for Gyllenhaal's presence bumps it up to a 3.5:
I would recommend it! (At least once!)