Southpaw, definition, noun, a left-handed person, especially a boxer who leads with the right hand or a baseball pitcher.
Why did this review begin with a definition of the title? Two reasons, first, because not everyone knows what the term means. The second reason is the more important one; I wanted to remind the screenwriter Kurt Sutter (“Sons of Anarchy”) what the term means as well. You see a southpaw is a boxer who leads with their right hand and is usually, but not always, left handed. This is a very important point to keep in mind while viewing this movie, because you will not see a single southpaw boxer in the entire film. Not Jake Gyllenhaals’s Billy Hope, not Forest Whitaker’s Titus Wills, not Miguel Gomez’s Miguel Ecobar, not even any of the opponents or training partners. Nope, you will not see a single southpaw in this entire film!
So why name this movie Southpaw? Apparently Kurt Sutter wrote the part specifically for Eminem as a metaphor for Eminem’s custody struggles, and since Eminem is a white rapper that struggled to be accepted and a southpaw has a hard time being accepted as well. Eminem is a lefty so it would make sense even in the context of the film. Now they are going with the idea that the title refers to the fact that a southpaw struggles to become a good boxer and so does Billy hope, the film’s protagonist.
The Basics: Jake Gyllenhaal plays Bill “The Great” Hope, the undisputed light heavyweight boxing champion who has never been defeated in the ring, well except for once, but that didn’t count. He is the prototypical white boxer, a lovable dumb guy who can’t manage to survive without the help of others but is really good at taking a massive beating in the ring and pulling victory from the jaws of defeat at the hands of obviously superior boxers (sound familiar?). Rachel McAdams plays his wife Maureen “Mo” Hope who came up through the foster system with Billy and has been by his side since they were 12 years old. Mo is the decision making intelligent street wise brains of the family. They have a daughter named Leila Hope played by Oona Laurence (Penny Dreadful).
The first act is typical to a fault. Billy wins a hard fought title defense, his wife wants to him stop boxing, his agent Jordan Mains, played by 50 Cent, wants him to sign an HBO deal, and his daughter just wants her Dad around more. A smooth talking ranked boxer Miguel Escobar, played by Miguel Gomez, wants his shot and talks trash at a press conference. Yadda yadda yadda, they have a show down outside of a charity fundraiser and Mo ends up getting shot and killed in scuffle.
Billy loses his mind, puts up a pathetic performance in the ring, spirals into despair and drinking, and winds up losing his daughter to the state protective custody. Down on his luck he goes to the gym run by the only trainer that ever helped a boxer beat him, Forest Whitaker’s Titus “Tick” Wills. They have a hard time trusting each other, a random kids dies, they bond, the movie goes on. If all of this sounds cliché, congratulations, you have seen a boxing movie before. I won’t spoil the rest for you, but it plays out exactly how you expect it to.
Conclusion: Here’s the deal, Southpaw isn’t a bad movie (besides the lack of a southpaw which I find reprehensible). It is just an average boxing movie. If you have seen a few of them, then you have seen every cliché that gets checked off of the list in this movie. It felt very Rocky III the whole time to me. This is all the more shameful because of the solid performances given by the cast. Gyllenhaal plays the punchy stupid white boxer (hello again Rocky) in an actually nuanced and method way. Oona Laurence is absolutely brilliant as she bounces between love and hate of her father. Forest Whitaker is Forest Whitaker. Even 50 Cent turns in a great performance.
These great performances are over shadowed by a badly titled, poorly written, and ultimately color by number boxing film. There are so many missed opportunities, plot holes, and dangling ends that it boggles the mind as to why they didn’t pursue any of those paths that might have made this movie unique in some way.
Boxing Genre Score: 2.75/5 – hits all the right notes, but is playing from a tired piece of music.
Mainstream Audience Score: 3.5/5 – if you haven’t seen the Rocky series or many other boxing movies it’s a good character drama with great performances
After Credit Scene?