Southpaw Review:The Hand Grenade Masterpiece
I like Kurt Sutter. I do. And I like Antoine Fuqua. The man who gave us Sons of Anarchy teaming up with the man who gave us Training Day and The Equalizer should equal up to a heavy hitting drama that pulls no punches (pun intended) and has you leaving the theater talking about how awesome it was and makes you want to plan to go see it again as soon as possible. It didn’t happen like that, though. After the movie, I was left feeling a bit short-changed by what I saw. Whether it was bad editing, Fuqua dropping the ball, Sutter brainfarting at the computer, or the studio meddling to make what they felt was a better movie, this film didn’t quite end up being what it could have been. It’s close… but as they say, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
There’s a few things they got absolutely right, and that was the casting of the leads. Jake Gyllenhaal does very well, here, embodying the violent man-child that is Billy Hope with a charm and tenderness that struggles to survive through the devastating loss of his wife, his daughter being remanded to Social Services, and losing every material possession he owns. You see him as a man lost, who’s just trying to break the surface of the water so he can breathe – and at Billy Hope’s lowest, Gyllenhaal holds nothing back.
The other piece of great casting was of Oona Laurence, who plays Billy Hope’s daughter, Leila. She does a great job being the daughter trying to cope with the loss of her mother while watching her father slowly spiral out of control into self destruction. She more than holds her own with Jake and Rachel McAdams, and outshines the other big name actors on the bill. Rachel McAdams gets her love here, too. Even though her time on screen is relegated to the first act, as her departure is the catalyst for the rest of the story, she owns pretty much every scene she’s in and her exit is gut wrenching.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is either miscast, or underutilized. My biggest complaint with the secondary cast was
Forest Whitaker, who didn’t seem to fit in here at all. He seems to be punching above his weight, so to speak, for most of the film; though he does have a few good scenes. As for the rest – Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Naomie Harris, and the main antagonist of the film Miguel Gomez – kind of take a back seat for most of the time, until the story needs them. I especially felt that Harris was under used, since she is a bit of a name (I mean, she’s Miss Moneypenny, ffs!), and that if they were just going to cast a social worker who has little to no character development and less input into the story, they could have saved their money and gotten a no-name. It’s a shame, because I like her, and would have liked to see more story of her dealing with Leila Hope as she tries to come to grips with everything.
Also, I definitely get that this is Billy Hope’s story all the way, but there are some secondary characters who are central to the story that just get lost in the shuffle and are left without any kind of closure. It was distracting to me, because I kept wondering if the film would ever address the loose ends, and it never does. The somewhat unpolished way this film’s story seems to unfold had me feeling as though this were originally an idea Kurt had for a new show once Sons of Anarchy wrapped, and someone said, “No, let’s make it a movie!” It wasn’t a bad move, but if they’d fleshed out more story to add about another 20 to 30 minutes, this film would definitely feel more complete. As it is, you’re left feeling like some things were cut to make sure it stayed around the 1hr 45min mark. And again, it’s a shame, because I really enjoy Kurt’s writing.
Antoine shows that he’s still a competent director, though he steals a few shots from a better boxing movie, The Hurricane. He squandered his opportunity to make the caliber of film that Training Day was, but maybe he has a Director’s Cut he will release that is a better film.
Finally, Southpaw was scored by the late James Horner, and this was his final work – though there is another film, The 33, which will release later this year, that he first recorded. Horner’s score for the film is beautiful, at times melancholy and sweet, and at others intense and heavy. But it goes well with what’s on screen, and never overwhelms you (I’m looking at you Hans Zimmer). My only complaint is that a rather underwhelming training montage scene was put to Eminem’s Phenomenal instead of one of Horner’s tracks, or even a different Eminem track. The dynamic of speed rap and boxing drills just didn’t seem to work. (And I like Eminem!) But if you’re like me and like to buy movie soundtracks, this is a good one to get, as it’s not only James Horner’s last score, but one of his best.
All in all, Southpaw is a decent boxing movie. It’s feel good enough to have more than a few kids shadowboxing as they leave the theater, though it lacks in some things that, given Fuqua’s record of solid films, it shouldn’t. If you’re a fan of boxing movies or Jake Gyllenhaal, you probably won’t be disappointed, as, despite its flaws, it’s still a thoroughly entertaining film. It’s still worth the price of admission, and make sure to bring your girl. You might need to ask her for her tissues to dry your eyes.