Jake G. is in a streak, hopping from one movie festival favorite to the next. Along the way, he made Southpaw, produced by awards-strategist Weinstein, who no doubt noticed the momentum in his career.
Jake G. does deserve praise here. Apart from getting in shape, he embodies the short-fused lug head that is his character.
The action is captured by sharp cinematography and dynamic camera angles that make you a spectator and participant within and outside the ring. The musical score features the last work of James Horner who added an electronic vibe to his usual arrangement for a fitting soundtrack, reminding us of a talent gone too soon.
On the other hand, as the Weinstein logo has already indicated in the opening credits, Southpaw is an emotionally manipulative award-pandering movie. Everything else here is used to goad empathy and create drama worthy enough of an Oscar buzz.
The lead is Billy “The Great” Hope, a cliched rough around the edges fighter whose name already tells you how this movie will turn out. The rest of the cast exists solely for his self-actualization.
His wife (poor Rachel McAdams) is fridged so he can go crazy. He’s incapable of talking to his grieving daughter (Oona Laurence) who gets whisked by child services. His visits are always overdramatic and no one bothers to explain to the child what’s going on. The Magical Negro (Forest Whitaker) appears in the form of a straight-laced trainer.
This downward spiral is nowhere near emotionally authentic. Fortunately for the movie, the cast gave good performances – except for 50 cent – that made their one-dimensional roles tolerable.
Ten-time world boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya points out in The Hollywood Reporter:
“Ironically, it is where many boxing films like Rocky, Million Dollar Baby and others have been so successful — in the scenes that take place outside of the ring and the gym — where Southpaw ultimately lapses into stereotype and does a disservice to its audience. Gunplay at black-tie functions; fighters unleashing uncontrollable rages at home; promoters fixing fights. Has this type of behavior reared its head in the history of our sport? At times, unfortunately, yes. Is it common? Absolutely not.”
Towards the end Southpaw becomes a typical boxing flick about, of course, not losing hope. The final showdown with a caricature villain provides engaging action that offers no surprises. As predicted, the movie wraps up with a melodramatic Hallmark ending.
Southpaw isn’t a pretentious prestige picture that you would expect from a typical Oscar-bait movie. It’s still a contrived, overlong, and obvious plea for an Oscar nomination.
Jake Gyllenhaal's committed performance and ripped body is not enough to distract you from the contrived emotionally manipulative Oscar-bait that is Southpaw.