Asserting its needless existence among countless inspirations, Southpaw is a glaringly by-the-numbers tale of redemption propelled almost entirely by clumsy cloying sensibilities. Light heavyweight champ Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the film’s focus – a hyperbolic embodiment of the rags-to-riches archetype that falls from grace following the tragic death of his wife at a charity event. With his assets liquidated and the custody of his daughter relinquished, Billy’s forced to start over and get back in the ring ASAP with the help of veteran trainer “Tick” Wills (Forest Whitaker) if he’s to return to a happier life of normalcy.
What’s most embarrassing about Southpaw‘s entirely innocuous narrative is how even the most detailed of synopses yield the formula it replicates to a T. A product of a Hell’s Kitchen orphanage (last name Hope) that aspires to be and becomes the greatest at something isn’t the most compelling of protagonists, and despite Gyllenhaal’s laudable turn, Billy’s redemptive tribulations are devoid of any and all dynamism. It’s all played way too safe, what with Billy being three-quarters of a lovable, brutish dolt that doesn’t quite stand in his own way as much as he should during his inevitable existential reascension. Even the requisite, judgment-clouding grief that propels him toward an equally requisite rock bottom feels ripped straight from a boxing melodrama handbook.
Southpaw wouldn’t so frequently walk the line between genuinely affecting and ham-fisted if it wasn’t for its bombastic emotionality. Many a sequence exudes an unnecessary emphasis of mood via the late James Horner’s score that – while exemplary on its own – is employed to a strictly manipulative degree. It isn’t so much an insult to our emotional awareness as it is self-parody through overuse, which is a shame given the film’s intermittent strengths from a more visceral standpoint.
There isn’t much I can say about Antoine Fuqua’s latest that’s entirely positive outside of a stellar central performances. This harsh reality can undoubtedly be attributed to Sutter’s rote script and how wholly it hamstrings itself with gratuitous trope employment. From a general simplicity of character to the sport at its core, Southpaw remains entirely too complacent with the amount of banality on display right down to its foreseeable, moreover overlong final stretch that wraps things up in the tidiest way possible.