‘What Do You Want, Man?’: Revisiting 2015’s Southpaw (Spoilers Ahead)

Man visits other man in a bar. Other man confronts man about what he did when his wife died. Man keeps repeating that he wants to box, that he wants to get his daughter back from the government. Other man keeps questioning until man throws his bar stool and storms out.

Man returns to bar, apologies, drink payment and all. Other man asks him, ‘what do you want, man?’ 

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(from left to right) Star Jake Gyllenhaal, rapper Eminem, star Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, and stars Oona Laurence, Miguel Gomez, Rachel McAdams and Naomie Harris at the New York City premiere of their 2015 feature film, Southpaw (MadeInHollywood.tv Photo and Caption)

Forgive me if I’ve got the foregoing excerpt wrong; in a way that is best implied and inferred in equal measure, hopefully the spirit of what we, very subjectively, saw in director Antoine Fuqua’s 2015 feature film, Southpaw, is still there.

Despite the likes of director Fuqua himself saying that this film’s father-daughter relationship is the film’s core à la to the Los Angeles Times’ Steven Zeitchik in an interview – ‘I didn’t really see it as a boxing movie, I saw it about a man who’s grieving and has to learn to be a father,’ – there is another struggle driving 2015’s Southpaw: Billy Hope’s struggle to take back control of his life.

From his entourage. His (ex-)manager, played by Curtis ‘50 Cent‘ Jackson. His seemingly faceless (and later) bureaucratic world.

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Director Antoine Fuqua on the Pittsburgh set of his 2015 feature film, Southpaw (Post-Gazette.com Photo and Caption)

That being said, the focus of the film is very much just on Jake Gyllenhaal’s Billy ‘The Great‘ Hope as he struggles to exert that control after his wife’s death, his daughter’s seizure by the state and his career’s collapse.

This isn’t like director Fuqua’s 2014’s The Equalizer where Teddy did vie for near-equal presence with Bob after the former arrived. It’s just Billy Hope and what he needs to do and does.

That being said, the film does carry over these Fuqua-isms as also seen in 2001’s Training Day, 2003’s Tears of the Sun, 2014’s The Equalizer and 2016’s The Magnificent Seven:

  1. Unflinching depictions of on-screen violence: While the film’s sole gunshot sequence is off-screen, breaking with 2001’s Training Day there, the blood beads and rivulets of this film’s boxing sequences are very much on screen and often in slow motion, somewhat similar to 2016’s The Magnificent Seven and its Gatling gun sequence.
  2. Societal roles being extrapolated into something more belief-driven: In 2015’s Southpaw, Rachel McAdams’ Maureen Hope often takes to managing her husband’s career – even turning down the HBO offer – out of worry for what will eventually happen to him; this isn’t completely different from Emma Cullen’s housewife-turned-community protector role in 2016’s The Magnificent Seven or Lieutenant Waters in 2003’s Empire of the Sun.

That being said, please let us know in the comments if you found any other Fuqua-isms in 2015’s Southpaw. Thank you.

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Screenwriter Kurt Sutter at an edition of San Diego Comic-Con (ThingsWeDoNewJersey.com Photo)

The plot, as subjectively interpreted and cited below, is often alluded to and in the course of this film but less so than the other father-daughter relationship thread.

That being said in the absence of the script online, screenwriter Kurt Sutter’s script seems to allow for some interesting setup – the allusions to Billy’s entourage ‘scatter(ing) like cockroaches‘, the facelessness or officialdom of the audience, doctors and even entourage members that Billy meets and allusions to characters yet to be used, à la Hector – and metaphor, in Billy’s climb up the dark stairs of Wills Gym to the illuminated landing, and how his tattoos come into view during appropriate scenes, albeit on-the-nose-ly.

ESPN Hosted Screening Of Southpaw At LA Live

(from left to right) Stars Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Oona Laurence, Rachel McAdams, Miguel Gomez and Southpaw fight trainer, Terry Claybon, attend the ESPN-Hosted screening of 2015’s Southpaw in Los Angeles (Charley Gallay/Getty Images Photo and Caption for The Weinstein Company)

Jake Gyllenhall’s slurry-speech-ed but regretfully violent portrayal of Billy Hope exists in acting pairs with the likes of Rachel McAdams’s Maureen Hope (which eventually culminates in Maureen managing Billy’s life but dying, not necessarily, because of it), Oona Laurence’s Leila Hope (which culminates in Billy setting himself on a path to get her back and Leila coming to accept her father independent of her mother) and Forest Whitaker’s Tick Wills (which culminates in Billy seizing control of his life and Tick learning to let his boxers aim for professional glory).

That being said, it’s still very much Billy’s movie.

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Composer James Horner (Associated Press Photo via AXS.com)

The score, among the last by composer James Horner, utilises some familiar piano cues from the composer’s 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man score, especially during the championship fight between Billy and Escobar. The track The Briefcase from that album comes to mind.

That being said, the score is restrained for what might go in a boxing film; save for the fact that 2015’s Southpaw is a different – but still boxing for redemption – sort of boxing film.

The score is definitely worth a standalone listen though. As is the soundtrack, often overshadowing the score for sheer pumping-ness by Eminem, Gwen Stefani, Rob Bailey & the Hustle Standard, KXNG Crooked and Tech N9NE among others.

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(extreme left and background centre-left) Director of Photography, Mauro Fiore, and director Antoine Fuqua on the set of 2015’s Southpaw (Indiewire.net Photo)

The cinematography, courtesy of Director of Photography, Mauro Fiore, definitely feels like that of 2014’s The Equalizer but with some more independent sensibilities given the sparse situations (and apartments) that Billy Hope experiences.

The professional boxing scenes usually have a lot of electric blue, neon red and ivory whites over the arena; interior scenes, à la the bar ones, use the familiar set of ochre, amber and off-white; and the daytime Hope mansion uses more pastel blues, orange and white.

That being said, the cinematography is used to metaphor-establishing effect much like 2014’s The Equalizer – with the darkened staircase leading to a lit-up landing, Billy and Jordan’s final talk being in a spectral boardroom with the two being silhouette-laden, the doctors and court staff indistinctly crowding Billy in pursuit of their duties and Billy’s immediate post-Maureen world consisting of shadow-laden police in a cold blue room – but more so.

Whilst this film breaks with the likes of 2001’s Training Day, 2003’s Tears of the Sun and 2014’s The Equalizer in its use of point-of-view photography, the on-screen violence is still clearly visible barring the gunshot that takes Maureen’s life. There’s also a foreground-background shot, as the funeral arrangements truck pulls up at the graveyard, with her grave in the foreground and the truck in the background.

Very simplistically, director Antoine Fuqua’s 2015 feature film, Southpaw, is a regretfully violent tale about a man looking to regain control of his life. While admittedly the most-recent and accessible of director Fuqua’s filmography, it is not quite the trademark-laden entry-point for newcomers but worth watching for new and existing fans of director Fuqua.

(Whilst the opinions and observations cited above are, unless stated otherwise, the author’s own, the following sources were used to acquire information from: ComingSoon.net, Film-Enthusiast.com, HuffingtonPost.com, IMDb.com, Indiewire.com, LATimes.com, TheASC.com)

Plot and Act-by-Act Analysis:

Plot: a boxer struggles to regain control of his life after his wife’s death.

Act 1: Billy decides to head out to fight Jones; Billy decides and manages to defeat Jones.

Act 2: Billy decides to attend the post-bout press conference; Billy decides to confront Jordan to accept Miguel’s match offer and heads home.

Act 3: Billy decides to meet Jordan at home the next morning; Billy decides to refuse Jordan’s HBO offer.

Act 4: Billy decides to go to the Children’s Club of New York event; Billy chooses to address the crowd there.

Act 5: Billy decides to confront Miguel in the hall over his insults to Maureen; Billy decides to stay and comfort Maureen as she succumbs to her gunshot wound.

Act 6: Billy chooses to leave the police questioning the next morning; Billy decides to visit Maureen’s funeral and wait with her grave.

Act 7: Billy decides to return home; Billy chooses to speak to Leila and returns to his room.

Act 8: Billy decides to track down Miguel’s friend who killed Maureen; Billy chooses to return home after finding him not there.

Act 9: Billy decides to receive Simon and Jordan at home the next morning; Billy decides to sign Jordan’s HBO contract.

Act 10: Billy impliedly decides to stop fighting Turay mid-fight; Billy decides to quit Jordan’s management.

Act 11: Billy decides to drive himself back home; Billy opts to drive angrily after reaching home and crashes into a tree.

Act 12: Billy decides to attend the custody hearing at court; Billy decides to confront the police as they take Leila away and his arrested.

Act 13: Billy decides to return home for the repossession; Billy chooses to go with Jon Jon.

Act 14: Billy decides to enter Wills Gym; Billy leaves after being frustrated by Tick’s job offer.

Act 15: Billy decides to visit Leila at the child home; Billy decides to try to talk to Leila, unsuccessfully.

Act 16: Billy decides to return to Wills Gym; Billy chooses to accept Tick’s job offer.

Act 17: Billy decides to revisit Leila at the child home; Billy returns to meet Tick at the bar.

Act 18: Billy decides to begin training Hoppy; Billy decides to deliver Leila’s nightlight to the child home.

Act 19: Billy chooses to begin training with Tick; Billy decides to keep at his defence training.

Act 20: Billy decides to revisit Leila at the child home; Billy decides to attend the court hearing.

Act 21: Billy decides to return to Wills Gym; Billy decides to ponder Tick’s Brady fight offer.

Act 22: Billy decides to visit Leila at the child home; Billy decides to accept the fight but bars her from coming.

Act 23: Billy decides to keep his defensive tactics and defeats Brady; Billy decides to meet and ponder Jordan’s championship offer.

Act 24: Billy decides to visit Wills Gym, post-bout; Billy decides to ask for Tick’s help and gets it.

Act 25: Billy decides to accept the court’s reunification offer; Billy decides to meet Leila and they visit Maureen’s grave; Billy agrees to let Leila come to Las Vegas for the fight.

Act 26: Billy decides to begin his training with Tick; Billy and Tick decide to head to Las Vegas for the bout.

Act 27: Billy decides to enter the arena and ring; Billy chooses to engage Escobar in the ring.

Act 28: Billy decides to keep fighting Escobar despite the knockdown; Billy decides to take the offense against Escobar.

Act 29: Billy decides to get back into round 11 on the offense; Billy decides to keep fighting after Miguel’s taunts.

Act 30: Billy decides to knock down Escobar; Billy accepts his championship victory verdict.

Act 31: Billy decides to give his championship belt to Tick; Billy chooses to meet Leila after the bout and they head out.

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