This film represents everything I love and hate about Hollywood. I’ll give it a fair rating. But let me be clear about one thing: The script is hot, soggy garbage. Calling Southpaw “trite” would be a serious understatement. It was definitely the most cliché, cookie-cutter production that I’ve sat through in a while. (I mean, the name of our protagonist — a light heavyweight boxing champ played by Jake Gyllenhaal — is Hope, for shit’s sake.) And the movie goes through all the typical motions we’ve grown to expect without unveiling a single unique quality.
But now that you know it’s trash, I did actually enjoy Southpaw. I never once wanted to turn it off. It’s bright and it’s shiny and it’s strangely well-acted (assuming you can overlook 50 Cent’s wooden role). It’s ultimately an uplifting flick — complete with angry/inspirational Eminem soundtrack — but the story puts a hurtin’ on the viewer during the first two acts. Rachel McAdams’ character is a breath of fresh air among the otherwise stereotypical cast, but she’s removed from the equation early on in what must be one of the saddest, most tragic death scenes in any movie. (And by lazily glossing over her murder, Southpaw inadvertently makes a rather searing statement regarding the pervasiveness of handgun violence in America.) Subsequently, Gyllenhaal’s tragic boxer loses custody of his daughter — a truly sympathetic role filled immaculately by young Oona Laurence — and he must do battle with his crippling anger management issues in order to get her back. Over the course of his inevitable redemption, he trains with a drunk, washed-up ex-boxer (Forest Whitaker) and mounts his comeback against the movie’s “villain,” a Columbian boxer played by Danny Henriquez.
For better or worse, this kind of shallow-but-engaging movie is what Antoine Fuqua is good at. The director takes terribly vapid scripts and turns them into halfway decent movies. Sometimes I fall for them (Training Day , Tears of the Sun , King Arthur ) and sometimes I don’t (Shooter , Olympus Has Fallen , The Equalizer ). Southpaw is technically just another turd. But it’s also one of the most well-polished turds to come out all year — and it wrings a surprising amount of emotion out of its viewers. [Spoiler ahead:] It would have gotten an extra pot leaf if Hope had lost the big title fight at the end. I would have welcomed an unexpected “sucker punch” like that at the end of this ridiculously predictable flick.
Three pot leafs out of five: