The Plot: The obnoxiously-named Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) has just won the world heavy-weight boxing championship of the world boxing champion belt trophy prize, and is currently just living it up in his AWESOME MANSION with his HOT WIFE (Rachel McAdams) and PRECOCIOUS FEMALE CHILD (a child actress). But then his hot wife dies and he gets depressed and angry and social workers take away his precocious female child and he goes broke. So, he decides the only way to redeem himself is to win back his boxing prize, but this time with the help of a poor inner-city retiree (Forest Whittaker) who uses boxing as a way to make poor inner-city children believe in themselves.
A lot of words come to mind while trying to describe Southpaw; words like, “insufferable” and “derivative,” and combined to form phrases such as, “pretty damn bad.” I struggle at times to determine just which word is most appropriate and, indeed, most accurate. The simultaneous beauty and curse of the English language is its vast vocabulary. I know that there are a thousand words out there that mean “pretty damn bad,” but I can’t pick one. You know, I bet there’s a word in Finnish or Hawaiian or something that means exactly what I said in my three sentence plot summary. The English language is imperfect because it has no word for champion-boxing-guy-with-stupid-name-and-hot-wife-who-dies-trying-to-redeem-himself-via-boxing-so-he-can-win-back-his-irritating-child. Anyway, whatever word that is in whatever language, that’s the perfect word to describe Southpaw, because I know that it is only ever used in a derogatory, critical, and/or insulting manner. Maybe the word, for my purposes, should just be “Southpaw.” I could get behind that. “Dude, you are acting like such a Southpaw.” It could work.
I’ve commented before that the quality Jake Gyllenhaal’s performances vary to reflect how much he cares about his role. If he thinks it’s worth the money but not the effort, he kind of just tumbles through it, but if he really cares, then he really tries. I can’t fully figure out why, but he really did try for this movie. Clearly somewhere along the line someone told him that if he gave this character his all, maybe he could get an award this time, I dunno. The result is an embarrassing waste of effort. He’s been in better movies that deserved stronger performances from him. He doesn’t always channel his energy in the best direction; let’s put it that way. Unfortunately, everything else happening all around him is so distractingly bad, the fact that he’s trying becomes all too evident. The script and direction are so crippling to any attempt he makes at delivering an admiral performance, that all we can really see is how he’s ACTING. He’s definitely trying to give a good performance, but he does not succeed.
The film is directed by Antoine Fuqua, whose directorial credits range from “pretty good” to “sort of enjoyable” to “just plain terrible.” I think probably since the generally well-regarded Training Day, he hasn’t managed to do better than “sort of enjoyable,” with titles like Shooter, King Arthur, The Equalizer, Brooklyn’s Finest, Tears of the Sun, and Olympus Has Fallen. I can’t say I have particularly high hopes for his upcoming Magnificent Seven remake, because that would be about as far from the truth as I could get. He made one thing abundantly clear in Southpaw: this man should never, ever be permitted to work with children. Actually, that’s not fair. It’s more screenwriter Kurt Sutter’s fault. There are ways to make sure the kid in your movie isn’t horrible, and then there are ways to make sure your audience holds said child in contempt. Sutter obviously confused the two methods. It happens to the best of us.
I watched this movie on a plane. Let’s keep that clear. I was confined to small space for eight hours with nothing much to do. Under those circumstance, even though Southpaw chewed up a quarter of my flight, it still felt like a waste of time. I’m just glad I didn’t pay anything to watch it. Again, it was an eight hour flight, so I still had time left afterwards, and ended up watching Straight Outta Compton and The Gift, both of which I can happily recommend. Watch those. Do not watch Southpaw, it is very much a Southpaw.