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Southpaw reviews

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Scott Garfield

No sport has a richer cinematic legacy than boxing. The gladiatorial thrill of the sweet science, pitting men (and women) in the ring with no place to hide and no one to blame, is great drama, as are the dire socio-economic conditions and scent of larceny that are never too far from the combatants.

In Southpaw, Jake Gyllenhall starts on top; his Billy Hope is the undefeated light-heavyweight champion of the world. But as any fighter knows, fortunes can change in an instant, with one lucky punch… or worse. Billy’s reason for living is his wife (Rachel McAdams) and their daughter (Oona Laurence), but when a tragedy threatens to cost him everything he holds dear, he has to slam into several rock bottoms before he get backs on his feet. “At his lowest point, Billy humbles himself and asks the owner of a skid-row gym (Forest Whitaker) for help getting back on top and gets the sort of gruff life lessons ripped from the Burgess Meredith playbook,” writes EW’s Chris Nashawaty, in his C+ review. “Gyllenhaal and Whitaker’s wary friendship is the film’s high point.”

Southpaw was written by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter as a starring vehicle for Eminem. The rapper and 8 Mile star eventually declined — though he executive produced the soundtrack and contributed the film’s song, “Phenomenal” — opening the door for Gyllenhaal to tackle another transformational physical performance following his acclaimed turn in last year’s Nightcrawler. He convinced director Antoine Fuqua, a boxer himself, that he could handle the physical demands in the gym and the ring, and Harvey Weinstein is already trumpeting the 34-year-old as an Oscar candidate. It’s only July, but he could be a contenda. 

For more of Nashawaty’s review, as well as a roundup of other notable critics, below.  

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)

“Gyllenhaal’s Southpaw performance is great, but for reasons unrelated to his physique. He’s thrilling to watch and the only unpredictable thing in a two-hours-plus movie where you can count on one hand the number of moments that aren’t hand-me-downs from better boxing films like Rocky, Raging Bull, and Fat City.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francsico Chronicle) ▲

“Forget boxing. Southpaw delves into what happens when a person loses everything. An instinctive man, Billy does things in response that might not make sense to most people. But Jake Gyllenhaal finds the emotional through line in Sutter’s script, showing us someone who wants to feel pain, wants to be pummeled, wants to die, and wants to fight the world. It’s one of the great performances of a man being eaten up inside…”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times) ▲

“Gyllenhaal goes deep with his performance, with a touch of Brando-esque mumbling in his line deliveries, and some bursts of rage that would make Sean Penn blush. Occasionally it feels like grandstanding — acting for the sake of getting people to say, “Now THAT’S acting” — but overall it’s immensely effective work.”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)

“Gyllenhaal proves himself a compelling, even mesmerizing presence amidst the action, even at its most hyperbolic and cliched. … Southpaw may be rote, predictable and mawkish, but none of those faults lie in its star. Even when he looks like an unholy mess, he transcends the movie he’s in.”

David Edelstein (New York)

“The trouble with Gyllenhaal is that he shows little range, not from role to role but within roles. He played one emotion (to acclaim) in Nightcrawler and plays one (to equal or greater acclaim) here. The only thing surprising is how far he takes what he does without varying his tone. … It’s a brilliant, dull performance.”

Wesley Morris (Grantland)

“One reason to wish Gyllenhall had gone for 7 or 8 out of 10 instead of 14 is that the movie isn’t very good. To his credit, this isn’t the sort of performance designed to transcend a film; it’s meant to complement it. The movie, written by Kurt Sutter and directed by Antoine Fuqua, takes almost every boxing cliché imaginable but doesn’t combine or stir them up. Each banality just sort of paces shamelessly back and forth, flashing at you like a body in a red-light district.”

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)

“If you admire the shameless in cinema, if you consider yourself a connoisseur of contrivance, you’re going to have to tip your glove in the direction of Southpaw, a boxing melodrama so gleefully preposterous attention must be paid.”

Justin Chang (Variety)

“Particularly during the film’s first half, Fuqua deploys such a heavy directorial hand that he all but puts a chokehold on the material; he doesn’t seem to be observing Billy’s decline so much as actively trying to break his spirit, as though having the character hit rock bottom numerous times would encourage our empathy rather than leave us feeling crudely manipulated.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)

“It’s an old story of rise, ruin, and redemption in the boxing ring. As old as 1931’s The Champ, in fact, and at times nearly as soggy. But this is a genre with especially sturdy bones, and when Southpaw connects, which is more often than you might expect, you feel it down to your toes. The cast makes it matter, certainly more than Kurt Sutter’s heartfelt but trite script.”

A.O. Scott (New York Times)

“It wouldn’t be a fight picture without a ruthless businessman, a gruff coach or a suffering wife. And this wouldn’t be a review of a boxing picture without a few clichés of its own. I wish I could say Southpaw was a knockout, or even a contender, that it went the distance or scored on points. But it’s strictly an undercard bout, displaying enough heart and skill to keep the paying customers from getting too restless.”

Deborah Young (Hollywood Reporter)

“There’s nothing truly out-of-the-box in the competent first screenplay by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, which eventually trots out Forest Whitaker in the role of the gruff retired master trainer with a heart-of-gold, Tick Wills. … Again, hats off to the actors and editor John Refouawho make this old chicken soup exciting to watch.”

 

Southpaw

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 57 

Rotten Tomatoes: 58 percent 

Rated: R

Length: 123 minutes

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker

Distributor: The Weinstein Company