Opening 20 Aug 2015
Among many contenders, Southpaw stands out because of its stalwart cast and fantastic camera work. Director Antoine Fuqua breathes fervor into Kurt Sutter’s screenplay – based on Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy – delivering a gripping film. Director of photography Mauro Fiore takes us up close and personal as Billy Hope battles challengers. Jake Gyllenhaal, pumped-up, tattooed and battered, wears posturing fierceness, exhaustion, and happiness to help us understand Billy’s magnetism and flaws. As Tick Wills, Forest Whitaker is practical, benevolent and manages, just, to balance life’s disappointments: “God must have some kind of plan, but I can’t figure out what it is.”
Winning the World Light Heavyweight title takes its toll on Billy; worried, Maureen’s (Rachel McAdams) acumen dictates a break. A strong force, “Mo” takes care of her man with wisdom beyond her years; even 10-year-old Leila (Oona Laurence) knows who takes care of whom. Following a terrible accident, grief-torn Billy slides into self-destructive despair. Only Leila’s placement with child services provokes slow-witted Billy to take a punch at straightening out. But a gruff retired great cannot be coerced; Tick offers levels of commitment the humiliated Billy grasps. His eventual comeback chance is more about winning the title Dad, than defeating the taunting, trashy Escobar (Miguel Gomez).
James Horner’s (final) fluctuating and fitting multiple-moods score counterbalances Fiore’s dark, cutting camerawork. Fuqua invests in fleshing out the characters, the cast in well-crafted performances. John Refoua’s editing maneuvers between electrifying and emotive, erasing any boxer-film stigma; the story offers few surprises, but has clout in the telling. Yes, machismo dynamics dominate, but McAdams’ nuanced – sexy, intelligent, nonjudgmental, and loving – Maureen, and Laurence’s breakthrough portrayal of Leila, counterweight Gyllenhaal’s powerhouse performance. Southpaw’s winning blow is an unlikely pairing that dominates outside the ring, delivering summer fare worthy of a ringside seat. (Marinell Haegelin)