It feels as though Jake Gyllenhaal is getting better with age. His roles are noticeably becoming more brutal and we find ourselves taking this actor more and more serious. We loved him in Donnie Darko, Enemy, and Nightcrawler, and now this! He’s becoming so good at his craft and it’s hard to look away from him in the recent boxing flick Southpaw. Antoine Fuqua directs this drama and let me tell you, it’s pretty decent. I’ve told you all about how my fiance is a sucker for the action genre. We left the theater last night and he said, “That was kinda like a modern day Rocky… I liked it.” We all know this doesn’t compare. This ain’t no Rocky or even Raging Bull. But I think we both found something really compelling that kept us watching the film. It did have serious boxing movie tropes, but hey, let’s start from the top. Billy “The Great” Hope (Gyllenhaal) is a successful boxer with a record of 43-0. He’s on top of the world, beating opponents to a pulp with a fight fueled by anger. We see Rachel McAdams in the film as Hope’s wife, Maureen. She is the voice of reason, so to speak, in Billy’s life, always taking care of him and their daughter, always making decisions for everybody.
Upon another knockout win, Billy speaks at a press interview and is confronted by a new challenger, Miguel “Magic” Escobar (Miguel Gomez). Might I add: this actor also stars in an awesome vampire-thriller-series on FX that I am obsessed with lately called The Strain. A very likable character indeed. (Go watch the show! It’s on Hulu.) Back to the punches… After speaking at a foster home event, Escobar’s group approach Billy with some verbal spit, igniting a brawl in the lobby that ends with a gunshot. Maureen is bleeding out as Billy rushes to her side, and he loses her. After losing his wife, Billy begins a heavy downward spiral that ends up costing him custody of his daughter. He is a trainwreck and the only way he can survive these times of heartache is to make a change. He soon finds hope under the guidance of Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker), a trainer at a local gym for young adults. “I don’t train pro fighters,” he first tells Billy, but soon he sees that the rundown boxer needs his help in order to get his life and his daughter back.
It’s a cliche plot and a cliche struggle. But just what was it that kept us watching? It was Jake Gyllenhaal, for sure. It’s something about him. He’s come a long way and here he is raw and is very dedicated to the role. You can bet he had to work hard for that body and how do you think he was able to film those fights in the film so well? The guy learned to box in a matter of six months. He told The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that he actually had to learn this real life skill of boxing to shoot this film the right way!! He truly amazes me. His character is aggressive and the onscreen punches are impressive. We’re right there in the middle of it all. I really liked the technique of making it look like you are in front of Gyllenhaal takin the heat as he punches your face and there’s sweat flying everywhere and bloody eyes, and all that good stuff. This had a story of redemption. We rooted for this guy, but let’s face it, we knew exactly how the film was going to play out after the first fifteen minutes. He is a boxer who won titles, but lost himself in the ring. That being said, Southpaw won my fiance over, but didn’t convince me fully, story wise. If you want something decent and gritty that isn’t afraid to throw punches, this is your film. It wouldn’t disappoint you. If you’re okay with the gotta-rehabilitate-so-I-can-win-my-life-back story, go for it. You’ll like it. As I said, it’s actually pretty decent! And if you just love Gyllenhaal’s work, watch it for Jake, because he’s stellar!