I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Jake Gyllenhaal is, as always, impressively dedicated to his craft (see also: Nightcrawler): he brings a light-heavyweight champion boxer to plausible life, whittling away his body fat, hunching over even outside the ring like he’s always anticipating a punch, and slurring his words like a man who has been pummeled in the head too many times. It’s a shame that all that diligence is in aid of a story that is as precisely clichéd, obvious, and tired as the name of his character. Dubbing his protagonist “Billy Hope” is the least of the metaphor sledgehammers screenwriter Kurt Sutter (creator of TV’s Sons of Anarchy) deploys in this tale of a man whose uncontrollable rage and poor impulse control sets him on a merry-go-round of violent outbursts followed by screams of “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” when people call him on it. Director Antoine Fuqua — whom I’m afraid is rapidly descending into hackdom, what with The Equalizer and Olympus Has Fallen and now this — bypasses every opportunity to criticize Billy’s macho posturing, the glorification of men who beat the crap out of other men on national television, men who are nothing without saintly and patiently longsuffering women behind them, or men who go off the deep end without women to mold them into functioning human beings. As happens to Billy when he finds himself without the company and succor of his wife, Mo (Rachel McAdams: A Most Wanted Man), and 10-year-old daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence). We’ve seen this story so many times before, but rarely with such a lack of appreciation for just how unheroic someone like Billy actually is. Southpaw treats Billy as a wounded, tragic warrior, but he’s nothing but a thug.