Gyllenhaal Is Great, Southpaw Not So Much

Gyllenhaal 'transcends' this predictable redemption story: critics
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 24, 2015 11:00 AM CDT

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a light heavyweight boxing champion who takes hard knocks in the ring and in life in this riches-to-rags-to-riches story, initially meant to star rapper Eminem. After gaining 15 pounds of pure muscle, Gyllenhaal has apparently also nabbed some new fans. Here's what critics are saying:

  • There's nothing new about Southpaw, which follows Billy Hope, a boxer who's "very much his own worst enemy." "The film is set up like a straightforward redemption story, but what makes Southpaw interesting is the complexity of Hope's character—thanks to Gyllenhaal's exceptional performance," writes Elaine Teng at New Republic. He "melts into the role completely," topping off a movie that's "extremely compelling and entertaining throughout."
  • For Ann Hornaday, this is a "by-the-numbers boxing picture" that's "rote, predictable, and mawkish," she writes at the Washington Post. But she also can't help admiring Gyllenhaal's "tenacious, fiercely obvious commitment." "He proves himself a compelling, even mesmerizing presence amidst the action, even at its most hyperbolic and cliched," she writes. "He transcends the movie he's in."

  • Gyllenhaal isn't quite as impressive as he was in last year's Nightcrawler, "but he's still pretty great," agrees Chris Klimek at NPR. As for the movie, it's rather "old-fashioned and unsophisticated," and "every plot turn is as telegraphed as a tomato can's jab. I didn't care: Enough of it felt earned to me that Southpaw wins on points." He adds Forest Whitaker as a boxing trainer "is the movie's other bravura performance."
  • Then there's Kyle Smith, who's not a fan in any way, shape, or form. Southpaw "brings back every stale genre convention you can think of, then hopes you won’t recognize predictability pumped up with swearing and steroids and an Eminem song during the training montage," he writes at the New York Post. The script is "recycled. And as is often the case with recycling, it's hard to distinguish it from a bag of garbage." Plus Gyllenhaal sometimes "veers from 'acting' to 'overacting' to [burn!] 'Nicolas Cage.'"
(Read more Rachel McAdams stories.)

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