On the surface, this gritty boxing drama looks an awards season hopeful. Southpaw features a stellar cast headlined by Jake Gyllenhaal – replete with sweaty washboard abs. Unfortunately the film is a disappointing bore. Gyllenhaal puts in a commendable performance as champion pugilist Billy Hope, but the plot plods along, punch-drunk from decades of flogging by Hollywood.
After a kinetic opening bout it becomes apparent that the boxing oeuvre merely serves as an excuse to get Gyllenhaal’s kit off. The supporting cast is uninspired, save young Oona Wallace as Hope’s daughter, Leila. Rachel McAdams is charming but underused. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Forest Whitaker offer little other than their names to the poster. The film’s strongest virtue is makeup; Hope’s face, in a constant state of disrepair, convincingly sells the notion that this character is a battered warrior.
I can understand why director Antoine Fuqua might want to give the genre a bash, but the bad press invited by the Mayweather-Pacquiao circus makes it difficult to root for wealthy boxers. It would help if Southpaw offered a compelling storyline beyond standard rags-to-riches fare, but it’s ultimately a silly melodrama, no competition for recent classics like The Fighter and The Wrestler.