I’m torn about this movie because there is really only one remarkable component to it and that is Jake Gyllenhaal. He delivers a superb performance and is the only reason to go see this movie. I strongly believe that he brought depth to a character that would have probably been forgettable in the hands of a lesser actor. Billy is a hothead who wears his heart on his sleeve and has no problem letting people know exactly what’s on his mind. He lashes out at every turn and is emotionally unstable which only heightens after his life spirals out of control. Southpaw does a great job of balancing your sympathy for Billy because he is somewhat responsible for his downfall but just doesn’t know any better. He gets put through the ringer and is hanging on by a thread. The man loses his house, his manager, his wife and above all his sanity. His daughter’s love and respect matters more than anything he has lost and it is heartbreaking when she doesn’t want to see him after being claimed by social services. She berates him for his mistakes and it is clear that this hurts Billy more than any punch in the ring could.
Billy starts training with Titus and slowly understands the need to keep his rage in check while in the ring. His chance at wiping the slate clean comes with a shot at the Lightweight belt and he has to learn how to channel his energy in a different way. This is representative of the emotional change he goes through as the shift in his attitude and technique from brash to lithe demonstrates. There is an awesome training montage set to Eminem’s new single “Phenomenal” which captures the determined look in Billy’s eyes to put his personal demons to rest. I should also mention that some moments are visually striking such as the close-ups of Billy’s battered physique. Everything from the bloodstained eyes and the bleeding nose to the countless stiches on his face is incredible and will not go unnoticed.
Southpaw doesn’t have much else going for it because its story doesn’t live up to the numerous films that have come before it. Forest Whitaker and the rest of the supporting cast are fine in the movie but fade away against Gyllenhaal. The film folds out predictably with no sudden twists and no real meat to the story. The storytelling is nothing extraordinary and possesses no unique hook that makes it stand out from past influences. Furthermore, Billy is absent from certain scenes and this detracts from the film because you’re reminded of how bland everything else is. Southpaw isn’t the best boxing movie you’ll see but it is definitely a fascinating and brutal look at an individual’s crumbling life. The final fight sequence is intense, particularly the last few minutes, which the audience remained quiet throughout.
Southpaw won’t be remembered as an iconic movie with company like Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby and The Fighter but as an example that Jake Gyllenhaal is undoubtedly one of the best actors of this generation and can elevate a mediocre film with a deeply engrossing performance.