Friday, July 24, 2015

Southpaw Review

Last year Jake Gyllenhaal delivered a knockout blow with his performance in the movie Nightcrawler. Not only was the movie itself one of my favorite movies from last year, but in my opinion, Gyllenhaal's performance in the movie was hands down the best performance by an actor from all of last year. I'm still mad at the Academy for not giving him any recognition. Anything short of a win would've been considered a disappointment in my books, yet they didn't even give him a freaking nomination. Much thanks to the YouReviewers Movie Awards for giving him their best actor award. At least one awards show out there can recognize excellence when they see it. But I digress. After receiving a huge blow from the Oscars last year, Gyllenhaal is back in the ring once again with his first of three attempts to please the ever so bitter group of voters. And yes, if you didn't notice, I am using boxing metaphors on purpose because this first attempt of his is a boxing movie. Personally I'm a huge fan of the genre and if you couldn't tell I'm a huge fan of Gyllenhaal, so this seemed like a match made in heaven for me. While a lot of other critics haven't dug this film (it's somehow ended up on the rotten side of the tomato meter), I'm hear to report that this doesn't disappoint. If you like boxing movies, Southpaw is a must see.

The biggest complaint that I have seen from critics is that this movie doesn't bring anything new to the genre. No, it doesn't. My response to that, though, is that it doesn't need to bring anything new or fancy. There's a formula that all of the best boxing movies use and it's a formula that works pretty dang well. So why stray from the formula that has worked so good in the past? Think for a second about all the Rocky films or any other boxing film for that matter. Our boxing champion starts out on the top. Something happens that causes him to fall. This may be a loss in the ring, a decision to retire from the game, a death of a family member or close friend, or something else along those lines. Our champion then spends a good portion of the movie down in the dumps before something then inspires him to get back up and prepare to fight again. He usually finds himself a good trainer if he doesn't have one already. We as an audience get to see an excellent training montage with hopefully an epic song playing in the background. Then our champion gets back in the ring for a final match where, win or lose, some sort of goal is accomplished and we end the film feeling uplifted and inspired.

That's the formula. If you don't like it, then fine. This movie isn't for you. But it's a formula that works very well for the genre and one that gets me almost every time when done right. Yes, the variables are always different. I could take some time right here telling you about the specific variables that Southpaw uses, but I'm not going to. If you really want to see what they are, just go watch the trailer again because once again too much of the plot is shared in this trailer. I'll spare you the rant this time around, but you know what I usually say to that.  Needless to say, Southpaw hits all the right notes it needs to in order to be one heck of a boxing movie. This is an extremely emotional movie that sees Jake Gyllenhaal become an absolute mess. Once he becomes this mess, I was once again blown away by the amazing acting prowess that this man has. I always say the best actors are those who can totally immerse themselves into a role and become the character they are trying to portray. Gyllenhaal did this last year in Nightcrawler to perfection. Once again he has completely transformed himself and is almost unrecognizable. I didn't see Jake Gyllenhaal. I saw a boxer whose life has completely fallen apart. When I read about all the effort and preparation the Gyllenhaal put into this role, it becomes even more impressive. He's a guy who seems to take every role seriously and I really appreciate that.

If you've watched enough boxing movies, you'll know that most of the good ones always have a moment. This moment I speak of is often a turning point where an emotional and/or heated discussion takes place between our main character and a person close to him. Southpaw's moment is between Gyllenhaal and his daughter. This daughter is played by a young 12-year-old girl named Oona Laurence and dang can this girl act. I'm always a lot more forgiving if a child actor doesn't pull off the best acting performance. I don't think it's fair to hold them to the level of their adult co-stars. However, when they do pull off a performance that is equal in scale to the adults in the movie, it's that much more impressive. Little Oona does just that. Fantastic. The other great performance in this movie is another one of my favorite actors, that of Forest Whitaker. I feel that he's often under-appreciated when he shows up in a movie. He doesn't get a whole ton of recognition. But he's also one who fully immerses himself into his role and this is no different. He plays the perfect supporting role in this movie that really is the glue that holds all the big pieces together.

In general I would say that the writing in this movie is just perfect. In addition to being acted beautifully, all the characters are just so wonderfully written. There's a lot of different story arcs that are going on during this movie in addition to Gyllenhaal's character and they're are perfectly woven together to create a grand and glorious big picture. This is also a movie that does get rather intense and graphic at times. When the fights happen, instead of being a spectator to the fight, it feels more like we are taken into the ring with the characters and they spare no pain in being realistic to what might actually happen when you get punched right in the face. This is not done in a gratuitous manner, but being that we are up close and personal, I often felt the same sentiments as the daughter and/or wife as they were watching their dad/husband get beat up. This also made for some pretty excellent cinematography that made it feel very realistic. Going along with this, the soundtrack was pretty great as much of it consisted of songs that Eminem wrote for the picture. I'm not usually a fan of rap, but I've learned to really appreciate the brilliant lyricist that is Eminem and I will say that when these songs of his started playing at all the key moments in the film, they fit very well with the tone of the movie.

Overall, Southpaw is a movie that worked very well for me. No, it didn't do anything unique or crazy with the boxing genre, but in my opinion it didn't need to. Sometimes when you are making a movie it is much better to just follow a tried and tested formula than to try to branch out too much. Yes Southpaw followed this boxing movie formula, but it hit all the right notes along the way and thus as a fan of boxing movies, I was very pleased. Propelling this movie was yet another excellent performance by Jake Gyllenhaal who once again proves why he is one of my current favorite actors. Is this the movie that will avenge his slap in the face by the Oscars last year? I don't know. Probably not. But whatever. After seeing Southpaw, I watched a YouTube video done by Francis Maxwell and Jason Rubin from the TYT Sports YouTube channel where they rank their top five favorite boxing movies (check it out right here) and they included Southpaw in their list. I don't know how my list would be, but I do agree with them that Southpaw is one of the best boxing movies that has been made and one of the best movies of the year so far. My grade for Southpaw is a 9.5/10.

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