Nobody hustles like Harvey Weinstein, and he’s been a regular Don King when it comes to the upcoming boxing pic “Southpaw.” As part of his annual meet ‘n greet with the press at the Cannes Film Festival, he declared he would get Jake Gyllenhaal an Oscar nomination for his performance and when a promised surprise screening didn’t materialize, he still showed the movie to a bunch of celebs on a yacht to keep getting the word out. But is Harvey punching above his weight? Well, yes and no.
The first reviews from the trades have rolled in for Antoine Fuqua‘s pugilist picture and for the most part, Gyllenhaal has been praised for his bruising performance though the movie itself isn’t seen as anything special. Here’s some excerpts from the early takes:
Screen Daily: Jake Gyllenhaal brings likeability and commitment to a raw role, but despite a strong supporting cast director Antoine Fuqua never quite transcends the proceedings’ gritty, melodramatic blandness. A lot of care, heart and craft have been thrown at awfully familiar material….No doubt there will be plenty of articles detailing the grueling training Gyllenhaal went through to prepare for this demanding role. One wishes he had more to show for it.
Variety: You can practically smell the blood, the sweat and the fierce actorly commitment rising from Jake Gyllenhaal’s bruised and tattooed body in “Southpaw,” a bluntly conventional melodrama about a champion boxer forced to undergo a grim crucible of physical, emotional and spiritual suffering. Yet the undeniable intensity of Gyllenhaal’s bulked-up, Method-mumbling performance may leave you feeling more pummeled than convinced in this heavy-handed tale of redemption, in which director Antoine Fuqua once more demonstrates his fascination with codes of masculine aggression, extreme violence and not much else. Creakily plotted over the course of its rise-and-fall-and-rise-again trajectory, this partly Chinese-funded production may land enough visceral blows to catch on with audiences on its July 24 release through the Weinstein Co., but seems less likely to attain the prestige-hit status of superior efforts like “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Fighter.”
The Hollywood Reporter: A taut boxing yarn about a champ who loses it all and has to fight his way back to keep custody of his daughter, “Southpaw” sticks to tried-and-tested genre rules, yet an edgy cast—led by formidable leading man Jake Gyllenhaal—keeps the story in sharp focus. Director Antoine Fuqua has shown his talent for bringing out the shadowy side of nice guys like Denzel Washington in “The Equalizer” and “Training Day.” Here Gyllenhaal gets the makeover as a bloodied, battered but magnetic prize-fighter. Set for a late July release after its competition bow at the Shanghai Film Festival, it has the chops to draw the high-testosterone male demographic, but feels too macho-centric to cross over to the Million Dollar Baby crowd. An award-worthy Gyllenhaal is the main attraction.
The Wrap: The film itself can’t avoid a few of the boxing-movie cliches we’ve come to know (and sometimes love) over the years: there’s the boxer returning to the mean streets where he grew up, the trash-talking champ, the grizzled trainer out to give his boy one more shot at the big time. Yes, we’ve seen this before, and no doubt we’ll see it again. But even when his punches are being telegraphed, Gyllenhall still hits hard enough to warrant the awards talk.
It’s a long, long way to the Oscars. Has Harv gotten ahead of himself regarding Gyllenhaal’s chances? Let us know below. “Southpaw” opens on July 24th.