Sunday 26 March 2017

Room movie review: 'Lenny's masterpiece will stay with you for days...'

Trapped: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in 'Room'
Trapped: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in 'Room'

Chris Wasser

It’s everything we thought it would be and it’s up for several Oscars. Based on the acclaimed, 2010 novel by Irish author Emma Donoghue, it’s easy to forget that Room (the film) could have gone either way. It’s a delicate story — a mesmerising tale of hope, survival and (if we’re going to get all fancy about it) the sheer resilience of the human spirit.

5*

So, how do you go about remoulding the harrowing tale of five-year-old Jack and his ‘Ma’ — a two-part piece in which the entire first section is set in the one ‘room’ — without breaking down some literary (and, indeed, literal) walls? The answer, it would appear, is simple. You don’t.

Instead, you hire a director with a knack for meticulous, scene-building storytelling, the great Lenny Abrahamson (Adam & Paul, Garage, What Richard Did) and the original wordsmith (the aforementioned Donoghue) to create a script and, subsequently, a cinematic experience like no other. Jump in at the deep end, and trust that the audience will follow — that’s the gameplay here, as Abrahamson presents a masterclass in 21st century film-making.

A fraught and textured piece, Room tells the story of a mother and child held captive in what is, essentially, a makeshift bunker out the back of their abductor’s house. As it transpires, ‘Old Nick’ (Sean Bridgers) kidnapped Joy (or Ma) several years ago, and young Jack (born and raised in ‘room’) has never seen the outside world. The room itself is a harrowing sight — a crowded, grey dwelling in which there is a bathtub, a toilet, a tiny kitchen, minimum furniture and a TV.

Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson in Room
Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson in Room

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They’re living in squalor, basically. A skylight above their heads reminds Joy of the world to which she once belonged — a world that Jack struggles to wrap his head around when his mother begins explaining life outside of these four walls.

The days drag in; every now and then, Old Nick appears and Jack is locked away in the wardrobe. It’s after Jack celebrates his fifth birthday, and we learn that Nick (a nasty, violent excuse for a human being) has lost his job that Joy begins to assemble an escape plan; one that will require her son to reach far above the capabilities and strengths of your average five-year-old.

It’s a deeply unsettling first act; tense, claustrophobic and truly heart-breaking. And, yet, Abrahamson somehow manages to find the light in such desperation and depression. We shouldn’t be surprised — Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay are astonishing throughout. The latter, especially, turns in a credible and truly outstanding performance, not least when Jack finally experiences his first wide-eyed glance of the afternoon sky. It’s here that composer Stephen Rennicks’ phenomenal score finally lets loose, and the tear ducts act accordingly.

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Yes, Jack and his mother eventually escape from their prison (which isn’t a ‘spoiler’ — it’s all in the trailer), and what follows is a remarkable second half in which Jack attempts to adjust to life outside of ‘room’.

There’s the inevitable media circus; the broken and traumatised family unit (Joan Allen and William H Macy play Joy’s parents); the question of whether or not Jack and his Ma will ever be able to lead normal lives, and so on. Freedom, as it turns out, does not equate to happiness, and the psychological scars run deep.

Beautifully filmed, magnificently acted and with a commendable and naturalistic screenplay at its centre, Room is a prime example of what happens when all the right pieces fall into place, and a first-rate team of crew members and performers remember to bring their A-game.

Dubliner Abrahamson (officially Ireland’s greatest film-maker) has, to put it mildly, crafted a cinematic masterpiece: one that is equal parts rewarding and horrific; suspenseful and enlightening; realistic and extraordinary.

Room plays havoc with your emotions (I can’t recall the last time I held my breath for so long, while watching a movie). It will stay with you all week. Indeed, Abrahamson — a comprehensive and increasingly confident director — now has the world at his feet. What happens next should be very, very interesting.

A stunning film.

Herald

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