Critical Mass: Does Southpaw make Jake Gyllenhaal a contenda?

25 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Gyllenhaal finds ‘most adult’ role in ‘Southpaw’.

Jake Gyllenhaal has had a penchant for the dark side in recent years, playing tormented and sometimes sociopath characters on the fringe, but the actor found himself playing the “most adult and most evolved” role to date as a professional boxer. The gladiatorial thrill of the sweet science, pitting men (and women) in the ring with no place to hide and no one to blame, is great drama, as are the dire socio-economic conditions and scent of larceny that are never too far from the combatants. In Southpaw, out in US theatres on Friday, Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, a New York orphan who becomes a rags-to-riches boxing success, then spirals back into poverty and is unable to care for his young daughter after the sudden death of his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams). “Spending the money he’s been given and holding onto things, and believing that he earns them and deserves them, all of those things are quick to go.” Directed by Antoine Fuqua, Southpaw follows Billy as he mentally falls apart and struggles to pull himself out of a severe slump as his preteen daughter (played by Oona Laurence) disconnects with him.

Billy’s trusted circle quickly dissipates as his world crumbles; his manager Jordan (50 Cent) jumping ship early when Billy refuses to fight in a match. Billy’s reason for living is his wife (Rachel McAdams) and their daughter (Oona Laurence), but when a tragedy threatens to cost him everything he holds dear, he has to slam into several rock bottoms before he get backs on his feet. “At his lowest point, Billy humbles himself and asks the owner of a skid-row gym (Forest Whitaker) for help getting back on top and gets the sort of gruff life lessons ripped from the Burgess Meredith playbook,” writes EW’s Chris Nashawaty, in his C+ review. “Gyllenhaal and Whitaker’s wary friendship is the film’s high point.” Southpaw was written by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter as a starring vehicle for Eminem. To play Billy, Gyllenhaal honed his physicality into that of a boxer’s, which he called “hard physical work,” and attributed the challenge to mental training as well. The rapper and 8 Mile star eventually declined — though he executive produced the soundtrack and contributed the film’s song, “Phenomenal” — opening the door for Gyllenhaal to tackle another transformational physical performance following his acclaimed turn in last year’s Nightcrawler.

Last year, Gyllenhaal won praise for playing a ruthlessly ambitious crime-scene reporter in Nightcrawler, a role that he starved himself for to capture a character on edge. “Billy is all heart,” he said. “He’s committed deeply and loves deeply his family, but he has this rage and this anger that has brought him great success but ends up destroying all the success he’s gathered because of it, so he’s confused.” He convinced director Antoine Fuqua, a boxer himself, that he could handle the physical demands in the gym and the ring, and Harvey Weinstein is already trumpeting the 34-year-old as an Oscar candidate. He’s thrilling to watch and the only unpredictable thing in a two-hours-plus movie where you can count on one hand the number of moments that aren’t hand-me-downs from better boxing films like Rocky, Raging Bull, and Fat City.” “Forget boxing. But Jake Gyllenhaal finds the emotional through line in Sutter’s script, showing us someone who wants to feel pain, wants to be pummeled, wants to die, and wants to fight the world. It’s one of the great performances of a man being eaten up inside…” “Gyllenhaal goes deep with his performance, with a touch of Brando-esque mumbling in his line deliveries, and some bursts of rage that would make Sean Penn blush.

Occasionally it feels like grandstanding — acting for the sake of getting people to say, “Now THAT’S acting” — but overall it’s immensely effective work.” “Gyllenhaal proves himself a compelling, even mesmerizing presence amidst the action, even at its most hyperbolic and cliched. … Southpaw may be rote, predictable and mawkish, but none of those faults lie in its star. Even when he looks like an unholy mess, he transcends the movie he’s in.” “The trouble with Gyllenhaal is that he shows little range, not from role to role but within roles.

The only thing surprising is how far he takes what he does without varying his tone. … It’s a brilliant, dull performance.” “One reason to wish Gyllenhall had gone for 7 or 8 out of 10 instead of 14 is that the movie isn’t very good. Each banality just sort of paces shamelessly back and forth, flashing at you like a body in a red-light district.” “If you admire the shameless in cinema, if you consider yourself a connoisseur of contrivance, you’re going to have to tip your glove in the direction of Southpaw, a boxing melodrama so gleefully preposterous attention must be paid.” “Particularly during the film’s first half, Fuqua deploys such a heavy directorial hand that he all but puts a chokehold on the material; he doesn’t seem to be observing Billy’s decline so much as actively trying to break his spirit, as though having the character hit rock bottom numerous times would encourage our empathy rather than leave us feeling crudely manipulated.” “It’s an old story of rise, ruin, and redemption in the boxing ring. But this is a genre with especially sturdy bones, and when Southpaw connects, which is more often than you might expect, you feel it down to your toes. The cast makes it matter, certainly more than Kurt Sutter’s heartfelt but trite script.” “It wouldn’t be a fight picture without a ruthless businessman, a gruff coach or a suffering wife.

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