Jake Gyllenhaal packed on the muscle to play Billy Hope in Southpaw.Jake Gyllenhaal again proves that he is the best actor of his generation with a transformative performance in boxing dramaSouthpaw. Jess Layt offers her take on the film.
Sports movies – generally full of triumphs over adversity, come-from-behind wins and inspiring final acts – are often paint-by-numbers predictable.
Incredible acting is not necessarily something one expects to see in the formulaic genre.
But incredible acting is what Jake Gyllenhaal has brought toSouthpaw, which follows light-heavyweight boxing champion Billy Hope from the height of his career through tragedy and to ultimate resurgence.
Hope, with wife Maureen (the ever-reliable Rachel McAdams) by his side, has fought his way from a New York orphanage to the top of the boxing world, and is tough, loyal and determined to give his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) a better life than he knew growing up.
After a shocking death – one of the most traumatic cinematic death scenes in recent memory – rocks him to his core and he loses everything he values, Hope must rebuild both his life and his character.
Like Rocky many (many) years before him, Hope goes back to basics at a tiny, non-descript gym and trains under the tutelage of owner Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker).
Jake Gyllenhaal with Rachel McAdams in Southpaw.
The plot is by-the-book for the sports film genre, but there is the added bonus of an emotionally fragile lead’s battle through the devastating effects of grief.
Director Antoine Fuqua (responsible for the equally foul-mouthedTraining Day) has to his credit managed to deliver amazingly realistic fights, and Gyllenhaal gives the audience no choice but to absolutely believe he is a professional boxer.
Southpaw’smake-up artists also deserve a special mention for turning Gyllenhaal into a broken, bloodied mess.
In the hands of a lesser actor, the film’s story shortcomings would bringSouthpawapart at the seams, but Gyllenhaal’s chameleonic performance infects every moment, colouring it with greatness.
Every character the actor takes on is completely unlike the last; Billy Hope is as far fromNightcrawler’s Lou Bloom as Donnie Darkowas fromZodiac’s Robert Graysmith.
Gyllenhaal physically transformed himself into a muscled, athletic boxer forSouthpaw, rough-around-the-edges, a ticking time bomb, ever the slightest trigger away from implosion.
He seethes with rage, collapses in anguish and beats himself up with regret.
Billy Hope is a fully realised character, three-dimensional and riveting.
Southpawis not the type of film that earns its actors Oscar nominations, but Gyllenhaal has delivered an Oscar-worthy performance nonetheless.
He is the most versatile and committed actor of his generation and he deserves to be recognised for it.
Southpawis rated MA15+ and is in cinemas now.
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