There’s no question that in the past couple of years Jake Gyllenhaal has risen to become one of the best actors in Hollywood. Gyllenhaal is someone who’s always been on the rise but I think his last three or four films have shown his terrific range as an actor, particularly his performance in Nightcrawler which in my opinion is the best one of his career.
In Southpaw, Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, the reigning middleweight boxing champion, who has an impressive career, a loving wife and daughter, and a lavish lifestyle. However, when tragedy strikes, Billy hits rock bottom and begins to fall into depression. When the notion of losing his daughter comes into question Billy decides the best way to get his life back on track is by getting back into the ring.
Southpaw is a movie that pull outs every boxing trope in the book but the film is so well-executed that the cliched and predictable story did not bother me. As Billy Hope, Jake Gyllenhaal is phenomenal. Not only is Gyllenhaal up to the task with the physical elements of his performance but the vulnerability of his character that he showcases makes his performance even better. He is great to watch. I was also particularly impressed by Forest Whitaker’s performance in this movie who plays Tick Willis, a former fighter turned trainer who trains the city’s toughest amateur boxers and decides to help Billy get back on top. The biggest surprise for me though was Oona Lawrence who I think is an absolute revelation. She’s great playing Gyllenhaal’s daughter and her relationship with Gyllenhaal’s character is really the emotional center of the film.
Speaking of which, Southpaw is a very emotionally engaging film as well. It takes you on a gut-wrenching ride where you can’t help but feel sorry for everything that Gyllenhaal’s character is going through. The movie really makes you care for all the other characters too who are all very well-developed throughout the course of the movie. I also think a fair bit of credit goes to Antoine Fuqua who does a terrific job of directing the film’s boxing scenes. His unique camerawork brings a lot of grit and realism into the fight scenes up to a point that you actually feel like you’re actually watching a boxing match.
The only thing holding this film back in my opinion is the script. The script from Son of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter has elements of both Rocky and Raging Bull, and you can sorta feel where the story will end up but again Antoine Fuqua’s kinetic direction and the performances led by a gripping one from Jake Gyllenhaal make the film a thoroughly compelling experience.