In boxing, a southpaw is simply a left-handed boxer. Having seen Southpaw, the question remains — is Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) left-handed? It’s never addressed in the movie. He even signs a contract at one point, but I don’t remember which hand he used. It’s the title of the movie, someone has to think it’s important. Right?
Hope, a punch drunk boxer of questionable handedness, is on top of the light heavyweight world, entering the film as the 43-0 world champion. However, his world is turned upside down when his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), is killed by a stray bullet when a fight breaks out with Miguel “Magic” Escobar (Miguel Gomez), an upstart boxer who crossed a line taunting Hope into a bout for the title. Hope quickly loses the title to another boxer, then his career after headbutting the referee, then his daughter after driving himself into a tree while actually drunk. With no income, Hope falls into poverty and resorts to training under Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker) in an attempt to clean his act up, get his daughter back and reclaim his title.
That synopsis? What was revealed in the trailer? That was more than half the movie. It isn’t unnecessary in terms of story flow, but the 123 minute movie feels like a lot more when you’re waiting more than an hour for the second-billed actor to hit the screen. This is Southpaw’s biggest problem.
Another problem is the mumbling. Particularly in intimate scenes between Billy and Maureen Hope, both of whom don an thick Jersey accent — their characters are from Hell’s Kitchen, but their accents are from Jersey — they put their faces close together and mumble to each other because they’re in love, and it’s impossible to understand what they’re saying. Perhaps the sentiment, that they’re still that close, is more important to these scenes, but it’s still really annoying.
The boxing scenes themselves are uninspiring. The first, which establishes Hope’s poor guard and bum left eye, and the last, a 15 minute climactic battle, are the most important, but also have the least going for them. Hope and Escobar just trade jabs, it seems, for 12 rounds. For a boxing movie, the boxing isn’t inherently interesting or compelling.
These are all negative observations, and the cons of Southpaw are easier to identify than the pros, but it isn’t a bad movie. It’s quite enjoyable. Gyllenhaal and Whitaker are convincing and have solid chemistry. It’s more a matter of its flaws being more pronounced, but not awful.
This feels like Oscar bait, and has been marketed at people angry at Gyllenhaal’s best actor snub for last year’s Nightcrawler. Given another high-drama lead role or two, and he’ll have fully contracted Leonardo DiCaprio disease. This isn’t a bad thing — DiCaprio has produced some fantastic movies (The Wolf of Wall Street, J. Edgar, probably this year’s Revenant) in his frantic pursuit of the golden man. Desperate is always a bad look, though.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. I’m always weirdly proud when my pee is clear. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.