It’s Jake Gyllenhaal like you’ve never seen him before. ‘Southpaw’ tells the story of Billy ‘The Great’ Hope, a reigning boxing champ who deals with a major tragedy in life — the loss of his wife. Jake takes on the epic role and it sounds like the movie is on its way to award season!
After getting snubbed for his incredible role in Nightcrawler, it looks like Jake Gyllenhaal‘s portrayal of Billy Hope in Southpaw, could regain that award-nominated status. Alongside Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Jake heads into the ring as a rough and tough boxer who’s looking to regain his title — and repair his family. The reviews are mixed, but one things for sure: Jake knows how to pack a punch. Here is what the critics are saying.
At the same time, the filmmakers seem well aware that nothing they show us can really rival the spectacle of Gyllenhaal himself, who throws himself into the role of Billy Hope with the sort of go-for-broke abandon that makes even his creepy, gollum-like turn in last year’s Nightcrawler look like a drama-class exercise by comparison. Having shed 15 pounds (and seemingly a few IQ points) for the part, Gyllenhaal has never looked rougher or tougher onscreen; with his closely cropped hair, his swollen face, his perpetually bloodied left eye, his skin drawn tautly across his muscles, he’s virtually unrecognizable here, which for some will be more than enough to satisfy the expectations of a truly great performance.
A taut boxing yarn about a champ who loses it all and has to fight his way back to keep custody of his daughter, Southpaw sticks to tried-and-tested genre rules, yet an edgy cast — led by formidable leading man Jake Gyllenhaal — keeps the story in sharp focus. Director Antoine Fuqua has shown his talent for bringing out the shadowy side of nice guys like Denzel Washington in The Equalizerand Training Day. Here Gyllenhaal gets the makeover as a bloodied, battered but magnetic prize-fighter. Set for a late July release after its competition bow at the Shanghai Film Festival, it has the chops to draw the high-testosterone male demographic, but feels too macho-centric to cross over to the Million Dollar Baby crowd. An award-worthy Gyllenhaal is the main attraction.
The film itself can’t avoid a few of the boxing-movie cliches we’ve come to know (and sometimes love) over the years: there’s the boxer returning to the mean streets where he grew up, the trash-talking champ, the grizzled trainer out to give his boy one more shot at the big time … Yes, we’ve seen this before, and no doubt we’ll see it again. But even when his punches are being telegraphed, Gyllenhall still hits hard enough to warrant the awards talk.
Much like its title, Southpaw has a blunt, anonymous quality, this tale of a world-class boxer laid low who must pick himself up and regain his former glory intermittently compelling but mostly perfunctory. Playing the umpteenth cinematic pugilist looking for a shot at redemption (and a chance at the championship belt), Jake Gyllenhaal brings likeability and commitment to a raw role, but despite a strong supporting cast director Antoine Fuqua never quite transcends the proceedings’ gritty, melodramatic blandness. A lot of care, heart and craft have been thrown at awfully familiar material.
Southpaw hits theaters July 24.
— Emily Longeretta