Southpaw movie review: punch drunk and disorderly

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Southpaw red light

Clichéd, obvious, and tired. We’ve seen this story so many times before, but rarely with such a lack of appreciation for just how unheroic its “hero” is.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Jake Gyllenhaal

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.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Southpaw for its representation of girls and women.

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MarkyD
Fri, Jul 24, 2015 9:36pm

From the first trailer, I was asking myself why this was even made. Is there an audience for yet another cliched boxing movie? Lame title and everything? I just don’t get it. Like you, I admire Gyllenhaal for his dedication, but I wish he had spent it on another movie.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  MarkyD
Sat, Jul 25, 2015 12:10pm

I don’t know who the audience is for this movie. Or who the studio imagined it would be.

Matt Clayton
Matt Clayton
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Jul 27, 2015 4:50pm

I think TWC is hoping for this to score a Best Actor nomination for Gyllenhaal, after he didn’t get one for “Nightcrawler.” It just looks like another boxing movie to me.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a gender-reversed take on “Southpaw” though.

RogerBW
RogerBW
Fri, Jul 24, 2015 9:47pm

Maybe there’s a target audience of violent men who feel that nobody understands them just ’cause they nearly killed that guy.

But then the appeal of boxing has always eluded me anyway. Just another film that doesn’t bother to generate sympathy for the characters.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  RogerBW
Fri, Jul 24, 2015 10:21pm

Maybe there’s a target audience of violent men who feel that nobody understands them just ’cause they nearly killed that guy.

If that’s the target audience, the studio should quote MaryAnn in the ads and make sure to point out that she’s a feminist. They could highlight this line, for example:

…bypasses every opportunity to criticize Billy’s macho posturing, the glorification of men who beat the crap out of other men on national television…

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Sat, Jul 25, 2015 12:12pm

I have a theory about how, as our culture increased its pressure on men not to show any emotion (except anger), movies became more and more about violent expressions of (all) male emotion that was not supposed to be expressed any other way.

I might write more about this…

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Sep 09, 2015 5:01pm

I was just reading this article

http://aeon.co/magazine/society/is-there-anything-wrong-with-men-who-cry/

and thought of your comment. I hope you have a chance to write about this topic one of these days.

Ку Че
Ку Че
Tue, Sep 08, 2015 9:34pm

I can understand why i haven’t heard of you before.