Jake Gyllenhaal is a chameleon. Compare his role as Billy Hope in Southpaw to what he did last year in Nightcrawler and they couldn’t be more different characters both physically and psychologically. Southpaw is worth watching just to see his captivating performance.
On top of that, we have a great non-showy performance from Forest Whitaker, playing Hope’s trainer with a lot of intensity just hiding under the surface of his calm demeanor. Even when his character has some questionable motivations (due to poor writing choices), he still sells them as absolutely real. Together, they make Southpaw gripping.
There’s some criticism being thrown around that the film has too many cliches. I didn’t feel this at all. I took the story on its own terms and thought it had enough compelling moments that were genuinely the film’s own. Besides, all sports movies kind of come down to a similar overall plot or theme (which I consistently am a fan of). So I loved this.