Southpaw is a film about a champion boxer whose life falls into disarray and depression as he loses almost everything and has to start again from rock-bottom. Southpaw is described as a “sports drama”, which is accurate, though you don’t need to know much about boxing to understand the context of the film.
The pacing of Southpaw really suffers from trying to “not be Rocky”, as events of any consequence don’t happen until a good 30 minutes into the film. The event which sets up the actual plot of the film doesn’t occur until about half way through the film, leaving all the development and resolution for only half the film. Or it would if the last quarter of the film wasn’t taken up by the final redemption fight (this isn’t much of a spoiler, it’s alluded to throughout the film). All of the character development and “depth” of the film felt like it occurred in 30-45 minutes, and as a result didn’t feel earned for the character so much as it felt like it had to happen for the story. There are a few times skips, which I honestly didn’t mind because it felt like director was choosing to cut out the most low-stakes segments, though it does mean we never see the anger management classes the main character is meant to go to which seems like an important element of his character development.
The biggest flaw with the plot of the film is its predictability, you can easily guess the conclusion of the film from the opening 10 minutes, and it’s pretty obvious how each twist is going to be resolved as it’s occurring. The plot is far from original and makes Southpaw feel more stale than it should. Even ignoring the slew of boxing films with similar plots which have come before it, Southpaw is still a very generic redemption film with no real surprises.
The main character, Billy Hope (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is… not very likeable. All the setup of the film shows him being quite arrogant and unsympathetic, it’s not until the 30-minute redemption arc you begin to see the likeable elements of the character, and even then, it doesn’t feel like he’s going through any genuine struggles. The audience understands he’s fallen into a depression and is handling the events around him very poorly as a result, but I couldn’t help but feel if he had just been a tiny bit more sensible at ANY point in the film, he’d be in a much better position. I felt bad for the character but I never felt sorry for him.
Jake Gyllenhaal is the most enjoyable part of the film by a long way, whilst the character isn’t that interesting Gyllenhaal really pulls out all the stops in the emotional range of the story – though I didn’t care about the character, he still felt real. Though the plot and poor pacing meant the character wasn’t very compelling, any individual moment out of context is well delivered. The only thing which really lets this down is there are a lot of moments of quiet dialogue, coupled with most of the characters are being more street smart than book smart, which made it difficult to follow quiet segments where characters were practically mumbling.
The other actors in the film are… good enough. I didn’t find any other performances particularly inspiring; as the film rushes even the main characters plot arc it barely has time for any other characters, and as such the actors didn’t have the time they needed to demonstrate their range. I don’t think any of the performances were bad, but most of the other characters felt like plot devices to develop the main character or storyline in some way; they didn’t feel like they really existed outside of the plot.
The cinematography in this film is really odd; most of it is pretty standard but occasionally there are shots which feel like they should serve a purpose, and then don’t. Early on there’s an almost “artsy” reverse shot using a small mirror, but all this does is give the audience a smaller window in which to watch the characters; the shot doesn’t look particularly interesting or establish anything other than ‘they own a mirror’. Also, several times during important emotional dialogue between two characters, the camera will switch to the other participant for maybe a second, not for them to say anything just to prove they’re there and maybe show some emotion. It just seems odd to swap to a different character only to have to swap straight back for the same character to continue talking. There’s also an establishing shot of the outside of the main house used a couple of times, which creeps up behind a tree to show the house through the branches, and then cuts to either the front door or somewhere inside the property. It’s as if they didn’t pay the property to film the house so are doing it covertly from behind a tree! It also makes it abundantly obvious that the exterior of the house is filmed somewhere completely different to the interior. While this is common film practice, many films will have some intermediate shots which seem to tie the exterior to the interior, e.g. a shot through the front door to show the hallway, which looks the same as the interior hallway seen previously. Not this film though, much easier to save money without those pesky intermediate shots!
I think this film comes up worse on inspection than it felt whilst watching it, I have definitely seen far worse films, but Southpaw just isn’t interesting enough for the 2 hours I spent watching it. Maybe this film is more interesting if you are a boxing fan or you love a sob story, but this film didn’t earn the attention and emotions it was trying to elicit. I’d only really recommend this film if you’re a massive Jake Gyllenhaal fan, because he pretty much single-handedly took this film from being incredibly average to something I sat and watched for the full 2 hours.
- Cinematography – 4/10
- Plot – 3/10
- Acting – 7/10
- Script – 4/10
- Enjoyment* – 5/10
OVERALL – 4.6/10
*Enjoyment is a personal measure of how much I enjoyed the film, more of a “gut feeling” than the empirical approach I try to take with the other ratings.