Could ‘Southpaw’ Be Jake Gyllenhaal’s ‘Raging Bull’?

The trailer for Jake Gyllenhaal’s latest feat of method acting has been released, and considering how much awards season loves boxing movies, he might not come away empty-handed next year like he did this year.

Gyllenhaal packed on 15 pounds of solid muscle to play boxer Billy “The Great” Hope in the upcoming drama Southpaw, a particularly startling transformation after he dropped weight to play the slimey tabloid journalist in Nightcrawler. The film is set to be released by the Weinstein Company on July 31, and will likely see a significant campaign with Gyllenhaal at the center come awards season.

Billy Hope is a champion boxer with a beautiful, supportive wife played by Rachel McAdams and an adoring daughter, both of whom struggle with his brutal career. When his wife is killed in a violent accident, Hope loses everything including his daughter in a downward spiral of depression and drugs. The former champion then has to use boxing as a path toward redemption. The movie co-stars Forest Whitaker, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Rita Ora, Naomie Harris, Beau Knapp, and Victor Ortiz. The script was written by Sons of Anarchy’s Kurt Sutter and it’s directed by Training Day’s Antoine Fuqua.

Sutter and Fuqua certainly make for a gritty combination, and this tale of redemption looks like it’s going for an entry among the pantheon of great boxing movies through history like On the Waterfront, Raging Bull, and The Fighter. It seems the Academy has always favored a good movie about a guy who overcomes the odds by fighting with his fists.

Gyllenhaal has long been a highly acclaimed actor, but has yet to win any major awards. He was nominated for a Golden Globe this year for Nightcrawler, in which he played a creepy tabloid journalist willing to do whatever it took to get the top stories. The film and his performance were highly acclaimed, but he didn’t take home any trophies. Gyllenhaal was also nominated for an Academy Award back in 2005 for his performance as a closeted gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain.

The Weinsteins are likely hoping that Southpaw will be Gyllenhaal’s Raging Bull. Martin Scorsese’s 1980 boxing movie starring Robert De Niro saw De Niro’s weight yo-yo in one of the most extreme and famous examples of method acting, as De Niro portrayed the tempestuous life of champion boxer Jake La Motta. De Niro trained hard to get into shape for the fight scenes and then stopped production on the film and ate tons of pasta to put on weight to portray La Motta later in life. The performance won De Niro an Oscar, and the film is counted among the greatest of all time, landing in the fourth spot on the American Film Institute’s often-cited list.

Gyllenhaal is certainly an underrated actor whose performances often go under the radar. Making a high-profile, tale-of-redemption boxing movie is a great tactic to get the various awards voters to take notice. We’ll see come this summer if Southpaw should be a successful awards contender.

Movie and award info via IMDb.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS

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