At the Cannes Film Festival in May, Weinstein Company head Harvey Weinstein all but guaranteed that “Southpaw” would figure prominently into this year’s awards race. He only showed the film privately at the time — but now that the boxing movie directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal has screened at the Shanghai Film Festival, it’s safe to report that Weinstein is right … to a degree.
In the South of France, the exec talked about how Gyllenhaal deserved an Oscar nomination last year for “Nightcrawler,” and suggested that his company would be working hard to put the actor on the Academy’s slate this year. And he’d be smart to do so, because a fierce Gyllenhaal is indeed the biggest draw, and the likeliest awards contender, in “Southpaw.”
The actor, who starved himself into a skeletal look for last year’s “Nightcrawler,” beefed up and muscled up significantly for “Southpaw,” to the point where he’s believable as a light heavyweight boxer.
It’s the kind of physical transformation beloved by voters, coupled with a ferocious but haunted performance as a fighter who wrecks his life and struggles to get it back. He’s brutal in the ring and fragile out of it, a potent combination in itself. “Antoine gave me everything of his, and I gave him everything of mine,” Gyllenhaal said of the part at the Weinstein Company presentation in Cannes.
Of course, the Best Actor race is always fearsomely crowded, and nothing’s a slam dunk this early in the year. (Just ask last year’s acting winner at Cannes, Timothy Spall from “Mr. Turner,” who couldn’t even wrangle an Oscar nomination.)
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.