Antoine Fuqua made a splash with Training Day back in 2001 which won Denzel Washington a long overdue Oscar. Over the preceding years his work quality has dipped considerably I do however have a soft-spot for his version of King Arthur with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley. His latest is the boxing flick Southpaw which stars Jake Gyllenhaal which is in the middle of a massive hot streak of great performance one after another and this is no exception.
Gyllenhaal plays the boxer Billy Hope who is the World Light Heavyweight champion, this is a long way from his career defining performance as everyone’s favourite teenage misfit Donnie Darko. Hope defends his title but sustains injuries so his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) convinces him to retire but tragedy strikes at a charity event where he is taunted by a young boxer Magic Escobar (Miguel Gomez) and Maureen is killed by a gunshot. Hope obviously destroyed looses everything including his daughter (a bit too quickly to be realistic) and has to go to rags and he gets a job in a gym run by Tick Willis (Forest Whittaker). Hope is just trying to get back onto his feet and get his daughter back and just maybe he has a comeback in him.
The film is really all rises or falls on Gyllenhaal’s performance as he is in pretty much every scene. It was however planned as initially a vehicle for Eminem and Billy Hope listens to a lot of hip hop in the film which may be a layover from the Eminem version including some of his music. Eminem also supposedly shot some footage but the film had to be on hold because he left the project. If Nightcrawler was Gyllenhaal’s Taxi Driver this is certainly his Raging Bull and he buffed up not unlike De Niro and has a physicality that is reminiscent of De Niro as well. It may not his greatest performance in his current run but it’s another testament that Gyllenhaal may be the finest and most versatile actor of his generation.
Gyllenhaal’s performance is countered by a range of strong supporting roles. Forest Whittaker is great but he is one of the most constantly solid performers working today. McAdams plays his slightly trashy wife to full effect and shows a side of her range we haven’t seen before. 50 Cent even appears as Billy’s former manager and is surprisingly good. Naomie Harris also appears as the child projection services officer and gives a very naturalistic performance.
However the film isn’t without its flaws and to some extent is fairly predictable because we’ve all seen boxing films and kind of know the eventual outcome. The film works best when it’s the personal interactions of the characters especially the relationship that develops between Gyllenhaal and Whittaker. It has nice cinematography work by Mauro Fiore who worked with Fuqua on Training Day and The Equalizer. Southpaw is getting an Oscar push at the moment which is a waste of money because if he can’t get nominated for Nightcrawler he certainly won’t for this especially since it’s not quite the knock-out it could have been.
Sports, Drama | USA, 2015 | Entertainment Film | 15 | 23rd November 2015 (UK) | Dir.Antoine Fuqua | Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Rita Ora, Naomie Harris | Buy: [Blu-ray]