Reviews

The Fight Scenes in 'Southpaw' Are Brutal and Beautiful

The fight scenes comprise a slamming mix of point of view shots, ringside images, and dazzling choreography showcases, as well as generally corny reaction shots.


Southpaw

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Naomie Harris, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Oona Laurence, Skylan Brooks, Beau Knapp, Rachel McAdams, Victor Ortiz, Rita Ora
Rated: R
Studio: Weinstein Company
Year: 2015
US date: 2015-07-24 (General release)
UK date: 2015-07-24 (General release)
Website

"I want to take a break." Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is dumbfounded. The undefeated light heavyweight champion has just won his 43rd fight, and his wife, his beautiful, perfect, ever supportive wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) wants him to turn down a challenge.

It's late at night, post-bout, at the start of Southpaw. Safe inside their exquisitely gaudy bedroom, their flawless daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) down the hall, the couple engages in a ritual wherein she observes his injuries and they seduce one another, their bodies gorgeous, their appreciation mutual. This time, though, Mo wants something new, not more of the same. Now she worries that the effects of their choices, the years of battering on Billy. "I didn't like what I saw tonight," she tells her husband. "You scared me, you can't fight like that anymore."

By "like that" she means Billy's channeling his enormous anger. Both products of Hell's Kitchen and a nightmarish foster care system, Mo and Billy survived by fighting with everyone but each other. But while she's learned to negotiate, to make deals and run the brilliant boxing career, he's still pummeling and being pummeled, without nuance and with too much need to prove himself, still, against younger fighters who mean to take his place as he once took someone else's.

All of this means that the psychological architecture of Antoine Fuqua's movie is utterly familiar. Add in the element of Billy's agent Jordan (50 Cent), who repeatedly frames his advice with the mantra, "If it makes money, it makes sense," and you see that Mo's efforts to re-set the career trajectory will run counter to all the man-boys' needs.

Sitting poolside the next morning, Jordan makes the pitch for another big contract: Jordan argues that he's "been his agent for about ten years, I know what's best for him," Mo comes back, "And I've been his wife for like a hundred years, I know what's better for him." Man-boy Billy's inclined to take the contract, unable to comprehend Mo's objections, his own aging process, or the rage that drives him. The tattoo across his magnificently muscled back, "Fear no man", sums up a little too precisely what he fears even as he might think he doesn't.

When tragedy inevitably strikes, Billy is left on his own. Also inevitably, he drinks a lot, crashes his car, loses his daughter. "It's been kind of like a whole mess," he observes, rather poetically. When at least he's ready for life lessons, he gets them from a couple of wise black folks, the social worker in charge of Leila's case (Angela (Naomie Harris) and Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), who runs a broken-down gym, looks out for inner city kids, and insists he's retired from training professional boxers.

Yes, Kurt Sutter's script is trite, built on boxing-manly men movie bromides, the odious and obviously corrupt hangers-on, the mumbly and underappreciated best friends, the gaudy overspending and the precipitous fall from grace. And yes, Southpaw also features training montages and big stakes fight scenes: they don't precisely develop character or move plot, but they do construct a mightily visceral experience.

Because Billy is so conventional and his story's conclusion so foregone, what's striking here are the technical skills on display. Filmed by Mauro Fiore so they're both brutal and beautiful, the fight scenes -- including the climactic bout at Caesar’s Palace -- comprise a slamming mix of point of view shots, ringside images, and dazzling choreography showcases, as well as generally corny reaction shots.

This mix, sometimes thrilling, underlines the genre's investment in a primitive experience, its achievements marked by making you flinch, making you anticipate pain you won't feel. Boxing movies, from 1931's The Champ to 1980's Raging Bull to 2000's Girlfight, allow you distance even as they immerse you in damage, in the violence of the spectacle.

Beyond this phenomenal experience -- and Eminem's theme song for the movie in which he was slated to star is "Phenomenon" -- boxing movies can't help but indicate the social dilemma shaping the industry, the desperation of the fighters, the incessant, profound, horrific disparity of classes. Southpaw buries its indication in Mo, her recognition of the tradeoff and the costs, as well as in Tick's gym and the kids lost to poverty and hopelessness.

That Billy is lost then not lost makes him fortunate, an embodiment of the hope he carries around as a last name. That Mo is just lost is equally symbolic and clichéd. If only we could all take a break.

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Film

Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"

Books

'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.

Music

Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.

Reviews

DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.

Film

On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.

Music

Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.

Music

Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.

Music

100 gecs Remix Debut with Help From Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX and More

100 gecs' follow up their debut with a "remix album" stuffed with features, remixes, covers, and a couple of new recordings. But don't worry, it's just as blissfully difficult as their debut.

Television

What 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Taught Me About Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

When I first came out as trans, I desperately wanted acceptance and validation into the "male gender", and espoused negative beliefs toward my femininity. Avatar: The Last Airbender helped me transcend that.

Interviews

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi Remake "I Am the Antichrist to You" (premiere + interview)

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi team up for a gorgeous live performance of "I Am the Antichrist to You", which has been given an orchestral renovation.

Playlists

Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.