Few actors commit to roles as fully as Jake Gyllenhaal. When that commitment is surrounded by excellent writing and filmmaking, as it was in 2014’s Nightcrawler, the results are outstanding. When that commitment is surrounded by a cliché story that relies on a cheap plot twist early in the film, the results are less than stellar.
Southpaw reminds me of Trouble With the Curve, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. Both are overly emotional sports movies made to tug on your heartstrings, and both fail in that regard. The main difference between the two is Gyllenhaal, which elevates Southpaw above the Eastwood dreck from a few years back. But not by all that much, not enough to make Southpaw worth a watch.
The big problem with the movie lies within the film’s title. There’s no real reason the film should be called Southpaw until about 3/4 of the way through the movie. Yes, it’s related to boxing and it could be extrapolated to mean taking on life in a new way, but you sort of have to stretch to make it fit. Within the actual story, though, the word isn’t uttered until about 3/4 of the movie, when Forest Whitaker (pulled out of retirement he wouldn’t leave until he’s impressed by Gyllenhaal!) suggest the most ludicrous boxing move for the film’s final fight — one that (I don’t think) has any basis in reality.
Southpaw is none of these. Southpaw is an acting showcase for Gyllenhaal, but one you don’t have to see. We know he’s great. Let’s get him in better movies. Southpaw is not worth your time.