Aspen Film hosts ‘Southpaw’ sneak previews
If You Go …
What: ‘Southpaw’ preview screenings, presented by Aspen Film
Where: Isis Theater
When: Tuesday, July 21, 5:30 and 8:15 p.m.
Cost: Free (first come first served); $25 guaranteed admittance; $50 priority admittance
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House; www.aspenshowtix.com
The veteran commentator Larry Merchant said of the eternally corrupt yet captivating prizefighting business, “Nothing will kill boxing, and nothing can save it.”
The same might be said for boxing movies. Even the good ones, such as Antoine Fuqua’s new “Southpaw,” are riddled with cliche and melodrama. But with the help of an inspiring training montage or two and a captivating lead performance, such as Jake Gyllenhaal’s in “Southpaw,” a by-the-numbers pugilistic underdog story can still beat the odds and leave you cheering.
The film, which opens nationwide Friday, will play in two sneak previews at the Isis Theater on Tuesday.
As “Southpaw” opens, Gyllenhaal’s Billy Hope is on top of the world, winning his 43rd straight fight, defending his light-heavyweight title, going home to his mansion and to his wife (Rachel McAdams) and his cute daughter (Oona Laurene) and handing out designer watches to his entourage. But he soon loses it all after a scuffle at a charity event turns tragic.
He drinks and does drugs. Banks take his house and his cars. The government takes his daughter. And his shady manager, played by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (a bankrupt boxing promoter in real life), ditches Hope for a rival.
You can guess where it goes from there. Humbled, Billy goes back to the old neighborhood (in this case, Hell’s Kitchen), toils under the guidance of a gruff trainer (in this case, a dependably dignified Forest Whitaker) and goes on a vision quest for his belt and his family.
Conventional, yes. But with Gyllenhaal in the lead and Fuqua at the helm, working from a script by “Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter, “Southpaw” does some magic in and out of the ring. And if you’re a sucker for training montages (and who isn’t?), the one here backed by a new Eminem song will knock you out.
Whipping tried-and-true genre stories into fighting shape is what Fuqua does best, often eliciting phenomenal performances out of his cast. He did it with Denzel Washington in the dirty-cop drama “Training Day,” and he does it with Gyllenhaal here.
Much has been made of Gyllenhaal’s macho makeover for the role. He packed on a light-heavyweight’s worth of muscle and subjected himself to months of jumping rope and pounding mitts to transform his body. But his performance offers more than stunt acting. With only mumbles and expletives to work with dialogue-wise — and hidden behind a scarred, swollen and perpetually unshaven mug — Gyllenhaal compellingly wills Hope’s hopeless, tormented character into three dimensions with facial expressions and body language.
It’s an interesting counterpoint to his ravenous, fast-talking turn as a cunning paparazzo in last year’s “Nightcrawler” (the one where he got attention for losing a ton of weight). Studio chief Harvey Weinstein has predicted Gyllenhaal will get an Oscar nod for “Southpaw” as a make-good for the Academy snubbing him on “Nightcrawler.”
Connoisseurs of boxing movies will appreciate the varied camerawork in the fight scenes, which manage to step out of the iconic shadow of the operatic “Raging Bull” black-and-white bloodbaths and the cartoonish wars of the “Rocky” films. Fuqua and cinematographer Mauro Fiore opt for a bloody realism instead. They shoot an early bout mostly in the dispassionate multi-cam style of an HBO broadcast, but the fights grow more visceral as the personal stakes for Hope rise. By the climactic comeback bout, they’re shooting it with POV-style intensity.
Aspen Film and Metropolitan Theatres are presenting Tuesday’s preview screenings. Free admission to the 5:30 and 8:15 p.m. showings is on a first-come, first-served basis. A line will form at the theater 30 minutes prior to each screening. A $25 tax-deductible donation to Aspen Film guarantees priority admission; a $50 donation includes priority admission and reserved-section seating.
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