Film Review: Southpaw (2015)

Release Date: June 15th, 2015 (Shanghai International Film Festival)
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Kurt Sutter
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Naomie Harris, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Oona Laurence, Rachel McAdams

Wanda Pictures, Riche Productions, Escape Artists, Fuqua Films, The Weinstein Company, 123 Minutes

Review:

“Your bitch isn’t here to save you now.” – Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar

*Written in 2015.

I heard great things about Southpaw before seeing it but I was skeptical. I haven’t been a huge fan of Antoine Fuqua’s work but I understand that many people are. I don’t think he makes bad films, they just don’t appeal to me for the most part. Also, this was written by Kurt Sutter, the creator of Sons of Anarchy and I am still recovering from going on that ride recently, which I didn’t find to be that enjoyable. Somehow, however, these two men’s styles blended together well and the result is a pretty good film.

Granted, Southpaw doesn’t come without flaws. I’ll talk about those first.

The film follows the same sort of formula as Sons of Anarchy where the main character is kind of a douchebag that does douchebaggy things. As the film moves on, you find yourself wondering if he can keep getting shittier. He does. In fact, he gets so shitty that it is hard to feel anything for the character of boxer Billy Pope other than disgust. Like Jax and his gang from Sons of Anarchy, I’m left watching some unlikable asshole that I don’t give a shit about. But unlike Sons of Anarchy, that perception changes.

I understand that you have to see the guy hit rock bottom in order to see him redeem himself but it was overkill and it made the first act of the film drag on and on. It was comparable to the immense destruction of Metropolis at the end of Man of Steel. The point could have been made without beating the audience over the head.

What brought this whole thing full circle was the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Pope. Because even though you get to the point of despising him, especially after his daughter is put into protective custody, he somehow turns it around and makes it work. There aren’t a lot of actors that could pull it off as seamlessly as Gyllenhaal did.

In addition to Gyllenhaal’s superb acting, we are treated to a fantastic performance by Oona Laurence, who plays his young daughter. Child actors in this day and age are typically dreadful; Laurence is the opposite. She played the role, brushing the cute bullshit aside, committed to it and gave us someone who truly felt like a child going through some personal turmoil. I really attribute her skill as a young actress for making this character shine. If it wasn’t for this performance, it might not have sold the redemption story as well. You cared about her, what she was feeling and you wanted to see her find peace even more so than Gyllenhaal’s Billy Pope.

Forest Whitaker sold this film too. His character Tick Wills was a great figure to play off of Billy and to challenge him and put him on the path of redemption. He was just badass, as he always is.

This is a pretty good movie, overall. It was shaky at first but it went to some really good places and ultimately, the end had you feeling pretty happy for Billy, his daughter and Tick. The tragedy part of the story was maybe too severe to try and come back from but this film pulled it off.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: CreedRocky Balboa, The Fighter and other modern boxing movies.

Film Review: The Replacement Killers (1998)

Release Date: February 6th, 1998
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Ken Sanzel
Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Jürgen Prochnow, Danny Trejo, Clifton Collins Jr.

Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, WCG Entertainment Productions, Columbia Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Hostage etiquette: kidnapper pays the incidentals.” – Meg Coburn

I haven’t seen this since it was in theaters twenty years ago. I liked it back in the day, especially because it gave American audiences a look at the great Chow Yun-fat, a guy I loved in several Hong Kong gangster films. Plus, back in the late ’90s, I was crushing hard on Mira Sorvino. I probably still am, truth be told.

This is a pretty fast paced film with a fairly short running time. But that’s good, as it doesn’t really let up once it gets going, which is almost immediately.

The story follows John Lee, a hitman hired by a Chinese mob boss to kill the young child of a police officer who killed the boss’ criminal son. Lee has the young kid in his crosshairs but decides not to murder the child. In doing so, he is marked by the mob boss for betrayal all while replacement killers are hired to kill Lee and finish his mission. Fearing for his own family’s safety, Lee goes to Meg, a master at forging passports. All Lee wants is to get back to China to protect his loved ones. While at Meg’s place, he gets her caught up in his drama and she is then pulled along for the ride. They have to try and survive and also do everything they can to prevent the cop’s kid from being killed.

This film was made early in Antoine Fuqua’s career. He did a good job with it, as it matches the tone and intensity of a lot of those Hong Kong gangster films that Chow was in, especially the ones directed by John Woo.

In addition to Chow Yun-fat and Mira Sorvino, we are also treated to the talents of Michael Rooker, who excels in action movies. Rooker plays the cop and the father of the kid who is the mob boss’ target. While he gives the heroes some difficulty, initially, he changes his tune when he realizes their situation and sees them risk their lives for his kid.

This isn’t close to being the best Chow Yun-fat movie out there but it is still pretty damn enjoyable and a great English language vehicle to help make the guy a household name in the English speaking markets.

Rating: 7/10