AM At The Movies: ‘Southpaw’

Above: Jake Gyllenhaal stars in 'Southpaw'
Above: Jake Gyllenhaal stars in 'Southpaw'

Southpaw
Starring:
Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent, Rachel McAdams
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Run Time: 123 minutes

Last year, Jake Gyllenhaal leaned out and got all creeping looking to play Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler. It was a tremendous performance and probably should have landed Gyllenhall an Oscar nomination.

This year, the 34-year-old actor has bulked up, crafting a sculpted physique for his portrayal of Billy (The Great) Hope in Antonie Fuqua’s Southpaw. Though Hope and Bloom reside at opposite ends of the spectrum, they’re both stunning performance and this it wouldn’t be a surprise if Gyllenhaal gets his Oscar nom here.

Southpaw takes place in the world of boxing, but it’s a redemption story more than it’s a sports film and while some will be quick to call it cliche or formulaic, the performances differentiate it from the standard “fall from grace and build yourself back up again” material that already exists.

Gyllenhaal isn’t himself in this movie; he is Billy Hope, a kid who came up in the foster system in Hell’s Kitchen and made the big time with his fists. He’s surrounded by the same people he came up with, including his wife and fellow system kid Maureen, who McAdams brings to life as the rock and foundation of the Hope family. Gyllenhaal doesn’t just look different – tight fade, squinty eyes, bruises and scars – but he sounds different too. He stammers and mumbles with his head hung low, a familiar speech pattern for figthers that aren’t comfortable in front of the camera or behind a microphone.

Fighting is a strange profesion that plenty of people don’t understand, but Fuqua and writer Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) capture the way guys like Hope would carry it. There are fits of anger, followed by quick apologie and coupled with scenes of frustration and disappointment – in life, in situations and in circumstances. Working through all of that is the real story of this film, not the two fights that bookend the picture.

Whitaker, a former Oscar winner and one of the best actors of his time, was built to play Tick Wills, a boxer-turned-trainer running a rundown gym back around the way that is short on shine, but long on fundamentals and rules. His manner of speaking lends itself to playing a sage old fighter that has taken his lumps and gotten back up to give back. He also has the physical stature to be believable as a one-time prizefighter as well.

One of the best moments of this movie is a first act exchange between Billy and Maureen.

Fresh off a 10th-round knockout win, Billy is battered, but eager to get back into the ring, but Maureen is concerned and wants him to take time off. They butt heads in an exchange that hits close to home as someone that covers professional fighters for a living and the moment feels real and genuine, even if it’s a conversation that probably doesn’t take place as often as it should.

Southpaw is Sutter’s first feature film, but it surely won’t be his last as the writing is crisp and authentic, while it feels like a nice return to something with a little more substance for Fuqua, who helmed of Training Day and last year’s The Equalizer.

You should go see this movie.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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