Last year, Jake Gyllenhaal earned many rave reviews for his incredible transformation in Nightcrawler, where the thespian shed 30 pounds and assumed the personality of a sociopath to play that film’s “protagonist,” Lou Bloom. Nightcrawler seemed like the culmination of Gyllenhaal’s rise to a chameleon character actor in the vein of Christian Bale (as it followed several other acclaimed performances) and established him as someone cinephiles couldn’t wait to see on-screen again.
Moviegoers will get that chance this summer thanks to the new boxing drama, Southpaw, from The Equalizer director Antoine Fuqua. The film first made waves in late 2014, when an image of Gyllenhaal in character showcased the work he had done to assume the physical stature of a prize fighter. We’ve known that the story will involve Gyllenhaal’s Billy Hope looking to overcome personal adversity – and with the release of the film’s trailer (watch it above), the obstacles he’s facing are brought into the spotlight.
Great sports movies aren’t necessarily about the sports they’re portraying. They rely on a heavy amount of relatable human drama to connect with audiences; telling stories about familial relationships or personal betterment to compliment their athletic sequences. Southpaw seems to be following that formula strictly, as the real meat of the plot will involve Billy trying to regain custody of his daughter – following the tragic death of his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams). Based on the circumstances surrounding that incident, Billy should also be looking to overcome the guilt he feels for his loss – adding more compelling substance to the film.
Without question, the movie’s primary selling point is going to be watching a jacked up Gyllenhaal do battle in the boxing ring. Fuqua previously described these scenes as “electric” – and with his leading man going through another remarkable body change, it’s easy to see why the filmmaker feels that way. Audiences will need little convincing that Gyllenhaal is a world champion, as the clips we see here show that Billy is a force to be reckoned with (and worthy of the praise he receives).
While Southpaw should be a winner within the sports movie crowd, it remains to be seen if it can join the ranks of Rocky and The Fighter by becoming a crossover hit. Some viewers will probably accuse the film of being predictable with its arguably overused setup of a down-on-his-luck hero attempting to reach the mountaintop. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the underdog sports genre can probably guess how this one will play out – potentially making the proceedings less captivating than they should.
But there’s also the hope that Fuqua and screenwriter Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) are aware of this issue and are merely setting the audience up for some surprises when the film’s released. Early on in the trailer, there’s a joke about how Billy is “so predictable” when it comes to telling his daughter how much he loves her; perhaps that’s a nice bit of meta humor the creative team threw in there. On paper, Southpaw looks like a movie we’ve seen before, but if Gyllenhaal’s recent choice in projects is any indication, there’s something special here that elevates it to a new level. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Southpaw will be in U.S. theaters July 31, 2015.