In Southpaw, director Antoine Fuqua takes his audience on a journey with Light Heavyweight Champion of the World, Billy (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) “The Great” Hope, who has it all: beautiful wife, cute daughter, big house on a hill, luxury cars, and lots of friends. But, on one fateful night all of those great things slip through his fingers. Billy is left with just a few mementos and the clothes on his back.
But, this story isn’t about Billy’s revenge. This is about a man and a father who has to take control of his anger and channel that energy into something more beneficial, like getting his daughter back from Child Protective Services.
“Billy’s a guy who has gotten by on his rage and anger – made a career out of it. He’s had great success and made lots of money from it,” said Gyllenhaal about Billy in the film’s production notes. “That anger can destroy you.”
Written by Kurt Sutter, Southpaw was originally written with rapper Marshall “Eminem” Mathers in mind. It was to be a remake of the classic boxing film, The Champ, starring Mathers as Billy. But, Sutter didn’t like the idea of a remake, so he used the boxing theme and incorporated Mathers’ own struggle with tragedy and anger and his fight to be with his own daughter as the basis of the film.
However, in true Hollywood fashion, Mathers backed out of the role in order to complete his next album. So, director extraordinaire Fuqua tapped an actor he’d been wanting to work with for years: Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal gives his best performance yet. His physique is magnificent and helps to really flesh out the character. Not to be outdone, Fuqua made sure that the film was as authentic as possible, including having Gyllenhaal train to get his body in fighting form and a lack of stunt performers.
Included in the cast are two great talents: Forest Whitaker as Tick Willis and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Jordan Mains. Whitaker gives an excellent performance as a tough trainer in the inner-city, training troubled teens. Whitaker, an Academy Award-winning actor, brings his brand of fatherly love/comically grumpy old man disposition to Tick and makes him instantly relatable.
The opposite can be said of Jackson’s Jordan. Jordan is Billy’s manager, but the way his eyes are constantly shifting from side to side, the audience knows right away that Jordan is following his own agenda. To some extent, Jordan is a villain who abandoned his good friend and client, Billy, in his time of need; all for the sake of making the all mighty dollar. What has me scratching my head, though, is Jackson’s choice of characters. It seems that, lately, if Jackson is on the screen, he’s being devious. Just like his Kanan on the Starz original television series Power. Maybe Jackson likes the thrill of being the bad guy.
Among Southpaw’s other talented actors: Naomie Harris plays a very subdued, but caring social worker named Angela Rivera; Skylan Brooks (Mister from Mister & Pete) portrays a local kid at Tick’s gym named Hoppy who has a troubled family life. Also, Rachel McAdams plays Billy biggest supporter and his wife Maureen Hope; Oona Laurence gives her performance her all as Billy’s daughter Leila; and real-life professional boxing trainer and the film’s fight choreographer Terry Claybon rounds out the cast as an assistant trainer.
Southpaw is a heartfelt drama that takes its audience on a journey with a man who is fighting in and out of the ring for his family. Billy “The Great” may never win Father or Husband of the Year. However, his efforts and determination to be the man his daughter needs him to be makes this film a must-see. Consider it an ode to all of the fathers out there who may not always get it right, but try their best.