Friday, August 7, 2015


Short version: This movie wins on acting, and pretty much acting alone. The script is serviceable but fairly cliched (with a couple important exceptions). The direction, cinematography, visuals, etc. are similarly well done but don't stand out in any way. But the acting; oh my, the acting.

I realize that this will shock many people, but Jake Gyllenhaal made me a fan with Prince of Persia. (Equally shocking, I have not yet seen Donnie Darko.) He is fun, he has presence, and he can make his emotions palpably present in the scene. Southpaw doesn't bring much of the fun (though his crazily infectious grin does sneak out a time or two), but the emotions just pour off the screen. If I hadn't seen him in other movies, I might have assumed that he was simply bringing a lot of himself to the role. But this is neither the rogue of Prince of Persia, nor the slick salesman of Love & Other Drugs, nor the man of questionable morals from Nightcrawler. This is a simple man in a complex world, who loses the person who made it all work. His life becomes consumed by his confusion, grief, and anger. Gyllenhaal not only projects the anger, but makes us understand that this was not a smart man, even before he took one too many punches to the face.

He is surrounded by people who similarly bring their A game. Rachel McAdams is his wife, and that one person who makes his life work. It is an unusual role for her, but she throws her all into it. I never though I'd say this, but I was impressed by 50 Cent. And, of course, Forest Whitaker was Forest Whitaker.

The breakout has to be Oona Laurence, though. As the daughter grappling with her entire world crumbling and coming face to face with the flaws of her father, she has a lot going on. And, in contrast to Gyllenhaal, it is portrayed with restraint and subtlety. The two manage to both spark off each other and fall together wonderfully. I am somehow unsurprised that she already has a long resume on IMDB. And I just learned that she originated the role of Matilda on Broadway. I expect that we'll see big things from her in the next few years.

The one element of the script that I really want to draw attention to is an interesting twist to the formula. Forest Whitaker plays the trainer who saves the boxer and helps him get his life back under control. But he is a deeply flawed mentor. He lies, he gets angry, he is selfish. And, critically, at one point he breaks down and admits that he may talk a great game, but he honestly has no idea what he's doing. It's a nice departure from the classic wise man role.

Feminism. This movie is tricky in that regard, to say the least. It rides the edge of the Bechdel Test, but I can't say that it passes it. It also rides the edge of the Mako Mori Test. The daughter has a good, strong arc. But, of course, that arc revolves around her relationship with her father, the male lead. So I can't say that it passes. On the other hand, I have to give McAdams' character of the wife kudos as an example of a strong female character who is never actually aggressive. She runs the household, manages her husband's career and finances, is the primary caregiver to their daughter, and is still an attentive and concerned wife. There is nothing about her that does not proudly proclaim strength and smarts.

I do strongly recommend catching this movie at some point. However, catching it in the theater is not necessary. I will mention that it is probably not appropriate for those with more sensitive constitutions. There is a lot of violence (mostly in the ring, but not all of it). There is also a lot of profanity. But if you can handle that, the experience is worth it.

Post script: I still find it peculiar that 50 Cent had a major role in the movie, and yet the tentpole songs for the soundtrack were done by Eminem.

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