Sunday, 3 January 2016


Sports movies have been around for so long, it would take a hell of a lot to bring anything new to the table now. This applies to boxing films more than any other. The Fighter, Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man, Grudge Match, Ali, The Hurricane, Resurrecting The Champ and of course Raging Bull and the 6 Rocky films, soon to be followed by Creed, are just but a few of the films in the genre. They’re all the same. Now, Antoine Fuqua – director of Training Day, Tears of the Sun and Shooter – brings us Southpaw, out now on DVD & Blu-Ray. Does it do anything to stand out from the endless list of boxing movies?

In short; no. The main reason for this is the massively predictable narrative. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Billy “The Great” Hope, the reigning junior middleweight boxing champion. He has a loving wife and daughter, a lavish lifestyle and his career is perfect. To quote The Lego Movie – everything is awesome! But when tragedy strikes, Billy hits rock bottom and loses everything. He soon finds an unlikely saviour in ‘Tick’ Willis (the great Forest Whitaker), a former fighter who now trains the city’s toughest amateur boxers. With his future on the line, Billy fights to reclaim the trust and love of those he cares about most. Sound like you’ve seen it before? That’s because you have. The screenplay, written by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, is overflowing with genre cliché and predictability. Nothing comes as a shock and there’s no real tension or edge-of-your-seat viewing here, unless you’ve never seen a sports movie before.

If it wasn’t for Jake Gyllenhaal, Southpaw wouldn’t be worth your time at all. But thanks to his breath-taking performance, the film is better than it could’ve been. Firstly, there’s the massive physical transformation to look at. After his incredible work in the criminally underrated Nightcrawler in which he shed the pounds to portray the ghastly-looking Louis Bloom, he’s now piled on the muscle very impressively for his role here. In the superbly edited and convincing fight sequences, Gyllenhaal injects character where others cannot. When Billy is cocky, his moves are swift and confident. But after his personal tragedy and he becomes desperate to make his way back to the top of the boxing world, his fighting becomes wild. It’s a true testament to his acting that he can portray his mental state through fighting. But it’s not just the physical side of his performance that shines. But it’s due to this that Gyllenhaal’s co-stars spend the film in his shadow. Outside of Rachel McAdams and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson’s supporting turns, the film’s other shining light is, of course, Whitaker. As the world-weary ‘Tick’, he delivers a soft and understated performance.

But unfortunately, as solid as the acting is, Southpaw suffers hard from the predictability. It has elements of rags-to-riches in the second half, but it’s more of a riches-to-rags story with a strong theme of redemption and family responsibility. With the film’s hip-hop soundtrack and feel, it’s no surprise to learn that Eminem was originally going to be taking the lead role. The film was even originally considered an unofficial sequel to 8 Mile. Although the role went to Gyllenhaal, Eminem still contributed heavily to the soundtrack – and this soundtrack only adds to the film’s long list of clichés. It seems that a hip-hop soundtrack is integral to the production of a sports movie these days. There is some beautiful score here though, by the late James Horner – who agreed to do the work for free due to the film’s low budget, and his passion for it. It turned out to be his last film. May he continue to rest in peace.

Ultimately, there’s nothing really wrong with Southpaw. It has a fantastic lead performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, continuing his current hot streak of brilliant work, and it’s certainly well shot. But it’s just so bloody predictable. There’s absolutely nothing here you haven’t seen before, if you’ve ever seen a sports film before. If you’re okay with that, and you’re a fan of Gyllenhaal, give it a look. But otherwise I don’t see any reason to recommend this over one of the genre’s better pictures, like Raging Bull or Rocky.

Southpaw takes home a down-the-middle 3/5 thanks to the film’s strong production and exceptional performance from Gyllenhaal. It’s just a shame the narrative is overflowing with cliché.


Sam Love

Southpaw at CeX

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