Mar 29, 2015

Trailing Off: "Southpaw" (2015)

Jake Gyllenhaal
Welcome to the weekly column Trailing Off in which I take a look at a trailer from the past week and analyze its potential. This will be done using an obnoxious amount of analyzing and personal thoughts on the cast and crew as well as expectations. Coming every Sunday (it's called Trailing Off for a reason), I will attempt to highlight films ranging from new blockbusters to lesser known indies and give them their due. Partially to spread awareness, I do believe that there is an art to the sell and will do my best to highlight why these trailers matter or don't with approval (trove) or disapproval (trash). So please stop by, recommend some trailers, and I will see you next time.

Trailer in Discussion

Directed By: Antoine Fuqua
Written By: Kurt Sutter (screenplay, story), Richard Wenk (screenplay)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Rita Ora

- Preamble -

What does it mean to be a great actor? Is it the fact that one can show range while going from temperamental to quiet within seconds? Is it a more subtle feature that allows for the performer to make it look thankless? There's a lot of debate on what makes an actor great. though generally the notion of weight shifts plays an unfortunate overshadowing sometimes. It is easy for performers, notoriously Christian Bale or Robert De Niro, to lose or gain weight to perform a role that requires a certain physicality. It kind of seems silly considering the health problems, but the level of commitment likely makes you applaud their work more.
While he wouldn't seem initially like someone to call "great," there is Jake Gyllenhaal, whose work in Nightcrawler last year saw him get serious Oscar contention. He was a creepy character and someone who reminded us on why he is an underrated actor. The one note is that he was very skinny and had a skeleton-like appearance for most of the film. Now consider this when I pitch to you today's trailer for Southpaw. A simple look at the image of a buffed up Gyllenhaal will convince you that this feat of going from small to big is impossible. Yet he did it.
While I am going on record of being a fan of Gyllenhaal, I do feel that the transformation may be overshadowing the performance factor. If anything, it feels like one of those roles made almost exclusively to finally get him an Oscar nomination. Of course, Antoine Fuqua's track record of great movies hasn't been high, but it did get Denzel Washington his Best Actor Oscar for Training Day. So anything is possible with all things considered. However, I do feel like this is a casting gimmick and one that I worry will not pay off. We all want to see him succeed, but is it enough to overlook a story that could be bad? I'll just have to watch the trailer first.

- Dissection -

On the more noteworthy side, I am surprised by the route that the film decided to take. While I predicted that it would be a boxing drama, it is only a smaller portion of the bigger story. It features a story of anger issues and child custody. It is the familiar story of redemption with a tale of hope mixed in. Also, for a film that seemed predicated on reminding us that Gyllenhaal is very muscular based on the above image, it doesn't feature a lot in the trailer. Also, the cast is a little odd because I wouldn't expect the likes of 50 Cent to appear in a film that almost seems geared to look like a boxing prestige movie. I am not saying that it works entirely, but considering the "Academy Award" monikers over multiple cast members, it does suggest that the film is subliminally about it.
There isn't much else to really get behind however. We don't get a sense of Gyllenhaal's performance other than that he is beaten up and talked in very muted tones. He is seen moping around and dealing with drama that would attract us. There's nothing besides plot that is focused on. I'm not calling this a bad thing, but for those wishing to think that this showcases his performance, I don't get the slightest clue of what to expect. It could just be that boxing seems to be Oscar's favorite sport (see: Rocky, The Fighter, Million Dollar Baby, etc.), but I don't know if it will be enough to stand out. There's also nothing particularly grabbing about this.
On another note, the production of the trailer feels a little silly. What is the point of playing an Eminem song and only focusing on "I am phenomenal"? It is too silly and actually distracts from the trailer. Again, I feel like it was a tactic used to make us believe that this film is, shall we say, phenomenal. I am intrigued of the project because of the actor, but I cannot really feel any invested interest based on this trailer. There's not a whole lot of appeal behind it that feels like forced prestige.

- One Sentence Sell -

Jake Gyllenhaal bulks up for a boxing drama that features family drama and a comeback fight in all of the familiar ways that boxing dramas have been known to have.

- Trash or Trove -

This isn't an offense to Gyllenhaal's performance. I just don't think that this trailer raises anything interesting or memorable about the film that makes me want to see it more than I already did.

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