Director Antoine Fuqua (‘The Equalizer‘, ‘Olympus Has Fallen‘, ‘King Arthur’ 04, ‘Training Day’ 01) tries his hand at the boxing genre but alas overcooks the melodrama and when considering the ultimate test of ‘does this film make me want to train?’, the answer is a disappointing ‘no’. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent, Naomie Harris and Oona Laurence bring the action to life as successful light-heavyweight Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) suffers personal tragedy, sending his life and career into free-fall and forcing him to fight to regain not just his financial status but his own peace of mind and the respect of his friends and family too.
Oddly enough, screenwriter Kurt Sutter, for whom this is his first feature film after working on ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and ‘The Shield’ for many years, has stated this is actually the metaphorical story of the latter half of Eminem’s life, somewhat following on from 2002’s ‘8 Mile’, and indeed the rapper was initially set to take on the lead role, with the notion of a southpaw (which means a boxer who puts the power behind the left instead of the normal right, although precious little is made of this element in the film itself) meant as a parallel for Eminem’s position as a white artist in a predominantly black industry. Yes, it’s a rubbish metaphor.
This goes some way to explain the numerous overindulgences, especially so with the heavy overuse of music throughout the movie (Eminem released the singles ‘Kings Never Die’ and ‘Phenomenal’ from the soundtrack) and whilst the performances are very solid throughout, especially so from Gyllenhaal and Laurence who plays Hope’s young daughter, the film never really manages to make you care all that much about any of the characters in the very basic, hackneyed and predictable story, though it remains watchable enough for what it is.
The film will also be remembered for presenting to the world the final completed score by legendary composer James Horner (‘Braveheart’ 95, ‘Titanic’ 97) who tragically died in a plane crash earlier this year and who apparently worked on Southpaw for free after seeing the film and loving the father-daughter relationship, even paying his crew from his own pocket. He had also secretly finished the music for Fuqua’s upcoming ‘Magnificent Seven’ (1960) remake (‘The 33’, a film about the 2010 Chilean mine collapse due to be released later this year, was also scored by Horner but he finished it before Southpaw) so it will be interesting to see how much of it makes it into the final edit, or indeed if Fuqua shoots parts of the film to specifically fit the music itself.