Nobody hustles like Harvey Weinstein, and he’s been a regular Don King when it comes to the upcoming boxing flick “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 celebrities on a yacht to keep getting the word out. But is Harvey punching above his weight? Well, yes and no.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the film was initially intended to mark a return to leading-man status for Eminem, and although the rap superstar eventually bailed on starring in the film, he’s remained very much involved, executive producing the soundtrack, contributing four tracks (two as part of Bad Meets Evil, his team up with Royce Da 5’9”), and his song “Phenomenal” has scored the marketing campaign from the off.
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 are 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 wish he had more to show for it.
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 clichés 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.