Southpaw

★★
Essentially “Rocky” with an R rating, a custody problem, and not nearly enough of Adrian.
Movie Review #998

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I’d had my doubts about “Southpaw” ever since I saw the trailer. It looked like it had potential, for sure. But it also looked like a two-hour cliché. It’s reassuring to think that “Southpaw” is exactly what the trailer promised and not a bit worse. Sadly, it’s not that much better, either.

“Southpaw” accounts a boxer, Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has hit rock bottom. (Sound familiar?) He’s at odds with an up-and-comer named Miguel, and not just in the ring. (Sound familiar?) Miguel’s brother has just shot his trophy wife (Rachel McAdams), so now he has all the more reason to beat Miguel. (Gee, what about that, doesn’t that sound familiar?) But it’s not that easy. (And frankly, when, in Hollywood movies, is it ever “that easy”?) Billy has anger management issues and his daughter hates him, and of course this makes gaining legal custody difficult, because he’s been deemed an unsafe guardian for the young girl. Okay maybe that last point isn’t quite as much a cliché as the rest, but there’s enough of them there that the familiarity takes a serious toll on the movie.

We’re also led to wonder what the hell kind of vision director Antoine Fuqua wanted for the movie. “Southpaw” is plagued by Mauro Fiore’s odd, distracted cinematography; John Refoua’s lackluster editing job; and a surprisingly mismatched score from the late James Horner. I have always believed that cinematography, editing, and score exist, first and foremost, to complement one another. If it says anything, Fiore, Refoua, and Horner had previously worked as a team for James Cameron’s “Avatar”. I hope to god that this was a coincidence, as “Southpaw” is a totally different sort of movie.

However, I applaud Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams for their strong performances in “Southpaw”. Their chemistry onscreen during the first thirty minutes is phenomenal. It’s a shame McAdams doesn’t last any longer than that as Gyllenhaal’s wife, because she might have held the movie together nicely.

It’s around this time that Gyllenhaal’s character begins to fall apart, as well. Yes, the role is helped by his determination. We’re supposed to connect with him, but because of the script, it is very difficult to do so. Kurt Sutter’s downhearted writing for “Southpaw” seems to undermine the aspirations of its lead character. The movie is essentially a highly psychological tale with an external locus, a combination that is dangerous because it is both strange and boring.

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