When you look back through the history of cinema, a lot of great actors have come and gone, some still currently in work. Charlie Chaplin, James Stewart, Clint Eastwood, Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro, Daniel Day Lewis, Jack Nicholson. The list goes on. Each one of them are famous in their own right, providing hours upon hours of constant entertainment. Looking through the names of younger actors currently working today, one man always pops into my mind. Jake Gyllenhaal. He's proved time and time again that he's dedicated to his roles, and long after he stops acting, I have no doubt he'll be looked upon as one of the greats.
Southpaw is the latest film from director Antoine Fuqua. If you're into entertaining R rated action flicks (going off of American classifications, of course), you've more than likely seen a film or two of his. His latest film finds aggressive boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) in a very low state of life. After rising up to become a champion, Billy's life as a husband, a father and a boxer comes plummeting down. Without delving too much into spoilers, an event occurs one night at a charity event that leads to Billy being put on trial for the guardianship of his daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence). Due to his aggression, grief and occupation, the court doesn't deem him worthy to raise her, so he begins to fight not only in the ring, but also for his daughter.
Southpaw is a movie that takes several clichés from other sporting movies and blends them together into something that feels brand new, despite clearly not being so. On the surface, it's a fairly generic story of a boxer's redemption with in the ring and out of it, but this film brings so much more to the table than just that. The boxing story is great, don't get me wrong. It's predictable as hell, but it's entertaining nonetheless. The boxing, however, is merely a subplot of this intense, violent and often unnerving tale of a father, a daughter and their wish to see each other.
Because of how well the relationships between these characters are portrayed on screen, when shitty things begin to happen in this man's life, and a heck of a lot of shitty things do in fact happen, you can really feel his frustration. His anger bleeds off of the screen and it creates quite an emotional experience. For the entire first half of this movie, I was honest to God on the brink of tears. The entire time! Screenwriter Kurt Sutter does such a phenomenal job at bringing these characters to life and getting us to care about them, and the actors truly make the experience worthwhile.
All of the actors in this movie give powerhouse performances, Gyllenhaal especially. He's a maniac, buffing up for the role mere months after loosing a drastic amount of weight for last year's Nightcrawler. A superior film, no doubt, but they feature two very different Gyllenhaal's. In a way, both characters could be considered psychopaths. And in another way, both performances deserve Oscars. It's too late for Lou Bloom, but let's get a campaign going for Billy Hope to get the victory he truly deserves.
Rachel McAdams, while not playing too major of a role, shines, her performance absolutely incredible and completely heartbreaking. The final scene she shares with Gyllenhaal's character got my eyes swelling up, both of their performances taking my breath away. Another actress in this movie that stood out for me was Gyllenhaal's character's daughter, played by Oona Laurence. For a child actor, she's one of the best around, or at least it appears that way after watching her kill it on screen today. Her relationship with Gyllenhaal is believable and natural, and there's never a line that wasn't delivered poorly. Has Hollywood found their next big child actor? I'd say there's a chance.
Obviously, one of the major components of this movie is the boxing, and it's displayed fantastically. I don't feel as if this movie will be going down the same paths Rocky and Raging Bull did in terms of fame, but those who see it are in for a treat, and Southpaw delivers. While neither the greatest movie about boxing, nor the worst, there's no denying how well the fight scenes are handled. They're relentless, in your face and feel grounded in reality. There's no exaggeration to be found. There's a moment in the movie where one character is hit hard, flying backwards. What I loved most about this scene wasn't the triumphant punch, but the fact that Gyllenhaal's character naturally went for another punch, even though he didn't hit a thing. He'd already done what needed to be done. It felt real. It didn't feel like he knew the knockout was coming. It's just one of the many things I adored about this film.
To sum up, Southpaw is a boxing movie that takes a bunch of different clichés and somehow turns them into something fresh and exciting, and also providing us with an emotional core to the story and plenty of insane boxing sequences helps as well. That Gyllenhaal sure can act.