Originally conceived as an unofficial follow-up to 8 Mile, with Eminem reprising his role, the film tells the tale of Billy "The Great" Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal; End of Watch, Nightcrawler), the current Junior Middleweight Champion and his fall from grace, the horrific pain he suffers, and how he goes about turning his life back around.
After an amazing performance (and an Oscar snub) in last year's Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal once again proves why he is an amazing actor and a credit to his profession. Gyllenhaal breathes life into the character of Billy Hope. The amount of commitment and time he took to get ready for this film truly shows on screen. After losing weight for his role in Nightcrawler, he then went through months of boxing training in Atlanta, GA as well as adding 30 pounds to his physique. You are not simply rooting for a character on the silver screen, but you are invested in this character, feeling as if you are right along there with him in his journey.
While Gyllenhaal is center stage in Southpaw, the supporting cast, consisting of Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes, Red Eye), Forest Whitaker (Street Kings, Taken 3), 50 Cent (Last Vegas), Naomie Harris (Skyfall, Pirates of The Caribbean), and Oona Laurence (Orange Is the New Black, Pete's Dragon), help round out the film the film nicely, and there might be some supporting actor nods in the list here, too, for Forest Whitaker and Oona Laurance. Their performances alone elevated the film to new levels.
Director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, Training Day), known for his gritty and "down-to-earth" filmmaking style, does not disappoint fans with this latest edition to his filmography. If you are expecting a glossy/happy boxing movie in the same vein as a Rocky film, you will be sorely disappointed. Even though Southpaw does borrow some elements from those types of films, it goes further down the rabbit hole of the life's harsh realities.
Along with great songs by Eminem featured in the film, the score itself is a rare treat. Composed by the late James Horner (his last composition before his tragic death) the score doesn't overpower the film, but helps add to depth and emotional to it. Unless you pay close attention, you don't even realize that his score is playing in the background; but your subconscious sure does.
While Southpaw is not about superheroes trying to save the world, or little yellow men, it is still a worthy entry into the summer line up, and while it won't have those same kind of numbers its opening weekend, it should have staying power to be in the theaters for quite some time, and I recommend heading out to see it before anything else in theaters this weekend.