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Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an impressively committed performance, but Southpaw beats it down with a dispiriting drama that pummels viewers with genre clichés.
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| Top Critics (50)
| Fresh (137)
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Gyllenhaal brings every ounce of his physical self to the role, but rippling muscles and a mashed-up face don't really constitute a performance. It's not quite his fault that Billy is such a maddening character.
The modicum of pleasure delivered by "Southpaw" arrives thanks to its cast, who struggle bravely and energetically with the hopelessly bland text and the invisible, impersonal direction.
Southpaw isn't content with presenting a gallery of clichéd characters. It takes the time to put flesh on the bones.
I veered between being awed and appalled, though mostly the latter.
"Southpaw" is a tremendous accomplishment of mainstream cinematic craft, a near-perfect match of director, material and star.
When you look past Fuqua's jittery directing, which dices up shots and leans the camera close into its star's painstakingly battered mug, Southpaw is a melange of familiar fighter movie ideas and images going back to Rocky.
It always feels like we're five steps ahead of the story, and that's because we've seen this stuff a million times before.
It is ultimately down to Gyllenhaal's consummate ease in engaging his audience that we root for him to the very end, the flaws in the script often forgotten as he commands the screen.
The elements are nothing new - tragedy, champ-turned-chump, eccentric coach, and grandstanding finale.
You can almost use a checklist for every major plot point in "Southpaw," right down to the final act.
The main reasons to see the film are Gyllenhaal and Whitaker, and they are worthy, but few viewers will come away with new insights on the topic at hand.
Gyllenhaal is Oscar-worthy as the struggling lefty. The huge emotional swing required for the part is handled with ease under his calm demeanor.
The first 45 minutes are basically Murphy's law for the protagonist: everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. But you it's also true that when you've hit rock bottom, the only way is up. What follows still isn't predictable here, but takes a lot of effort, sweat and tears. Once the film is over, you realize it played you with the conventions of the sports drama you've seen a few times before. But while you're in it, you're on the edge of the seat and feel for this deeply flawed man and his adorable daughter. That's no small feat. Director Fuqua could rely on an incredibly strong cast, especially Gyllenhaal, delivering one of the best performances of his career.
ClichÃ (C)-driven but a well-put effort in being inspiring and persevering. Southpaw has its plot holes and melodrama, but thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal's effortless performance and the glitz and glamour of the sweet science, it goes the distance. 3.5/5
An entirely predictable boxing drama elevated by committed performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Forest Whitaker, but it doesn't have enough to fully recommend. You can predict the entire plot in about five minutes. The first half of the film suffers from entirely unlikable characters and that only gets elevated in the second half by Forest Whitaker's character. Because I didn't really like the main character, his transformation didn't affect me like it should have. Ultimately, it was entertaining in spurts and has good performances, but the unlikable characters and predictable story hold it back from being anything more than halfway decent.
After his wife is killed, a boxer falls from grace but finds redemption in one last fight.
Jake Gyllenhaal's physical transformation and the intensity of his performance are the only two things that recommend this film. Everything else is unrestrained, melodramatic, melancholic, and melon-headed nonsense. Plot points pop up like they were written on the way to the set, and characters reverse intentions because plot, and the whole thing just wreaks of sensationalism like a sweaty gym sock. Just as a quick, non-spoiler example: at the first act climax of the film, the protagonist's wife is killed (in a ham-handed, "because plot" fashion - but no matter), and her death scene lasts about three minutes with nothing but repeated dialogue, slobber, and tears. It's a scene, the emotional effect of which, fades with each passing second, and it bespeaks a director who over-indulges in a fascination with his own feelings. Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams "go there," but it's up to the director to temper the scene so that the film doesn't peak too early and so that it doesn't seem over-indulgent.
Overall, this might have been a good movie if only the film's structure could have served it better.
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