I generally look forward to every film starring Jake Gyllenhaal (or, as I often call him, JakeyG), and Southpaw was no different. With a promising cast and encouraging trailers, I had hope it would turn out to be a somewhat quality film. Unfortunately it turned out to be mediocre, with elements – like Gyllenhaal and the soundtrack – shining through to make a viewing definitely worth it.
The script and cinematography are the biggest problems with Southpaw. The script is cookie-cutter and prescriptive, resulting in an almost painfully predictable story. This is worsened by a lazy disregard for narrative completion, with themes and plot points introduced only to be wantonly forgotten. This neglect is disappointing as an attentive viewer, and stems from the bad habit of stuffing too many ideas into one movie. I have made this point in several recent reviews, which is frustrating because it’s such a simple thing to avoid. Finally, even the dialogue itself was disappointing – I definitely laughed at lines not intended as jokes. In terms of cinematography, I continuously felt that shots were not carried through to their proper conclusion – many scenes felt that only ten to thirty additional seconds would make them feel complete, but instead were jarringly cut short. Things like quick overlooking pan-outs from a powerful moment does a disservice to both the story and the actors, and there was no shortage of such unimaginative moments.
On the other hand, Gyllenhaal is truly wonderful in this role. He clearly internalizes this character, bringing all sides of him to life – from grieving husband to rage-filled boxer to loving father, he has a full spectrum of emotion with which to play, and he does so very convincingly. It is interesting to see him play a character so based in physicality. Billy Hope expresses very little through words (and when he does so he intensely lacks eloquence), so Gyllenhaal channels a great deal of meaning through his body language. Each movement seems calculated and intentional, while looking completely natural, a feat that must take intense focus and a deep knowledge of one’s character. Balanced against this simmering persona are his scenes with Oona Laurence, who plays Hope’s daughter. Gyllenhaal and Laurence’s on-screen chemistry is palpable, and their interplay through challenging circumstances are indeed quite moving. Laurence provided a solid performance in her own right, and I look forward to seeing her future work.
It is now bittersweet that I must discuss the score, as Southpaw is the last film James Horner – the man who brought to life such films as Titanic, Avatar, The Wrath of Khan, and Apollo 13 – scored before his untimely death. The soundtrack is very effective, and what easily could have clashed with tracks by Eminem and 50 Cent in fact flowed seamlessly, with both sets of music complimenting each other well. I might have noticed the soundtrack more than usual because I was specifically listening for it, but I am glad Horner’s last score was, while not tied to a great movie, a success in itself.
Southpaw may be dry, rife with cliché, and have an abysmal script, but JakeyG and Horner make it definitely worth a watch, proving the work of true artists will shine through even the bleakest of films.