Movie reviews: Room and Creed
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases - Room, and Creed.
Lenny Abrahamson, I would argue, is the best film-maker this country has yet produced. In films like Garage and Adam & Paul he has drifted through the rough terrain of contemporary Ireland employing a visual flair unusual in our hopelessly verbose cinematic culture. More recent films, like What Richard Did, have slowly moved Mr Abrahamson's focus from the arthouse to the mainstream, and despite its harrowing subject, Room (3*, 15A, 118mins) is his most commercial and accessible movie yet.
That fact is both an achievement and a shortcoming in a film that has an awful lot going for it, but comes unstuck during a problematic second act.
Room has been skilfully adapted from her own novel by Emma Donoghue, and opens in a squalid shed that appears to be home to a young mother called Joy (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old boy, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). She looks depressed, and we soon find out why. At the age of 17, Joy was abducted by a man known here as Old Nick and imprisoned in a reinforced shed at the bottom of his garden. Jack is the result of one of his rapes, but that doesn't stop Joy from loving the child with every fibre of her being.
While she knows their home is a prison, and gazes wistfully at the passing clouds visible through a small skylight, Jack has nothing better to compare it with. To him, 'Room' is an entire universe, its shabbiest corners a source of wonder. Joy does her best to shield him from the horrible reality of their situation, but the boy may yet have a part to play in their salvation.
Abrahamson does a very fine job of conveying both the magic and oppressiveness of the room, which seems to shrink and grow depending on who's looking at it. But the second half of Room plays out like a slightly shrill and very conventional therapy movie, as Joy and her family try to come to terms with what has happened.
In the film's most compelling sequence, Joy's father (William H Macy) silently refuses to look at or acknowledge Jack during a family meal, a very believable human reaction. But Macy disappears thereafter, and we're left with shouting and screaming and patient sighing as Joy and her mother (Joan Allen) try to recover their lost lives to the wailing strains of an overbearing soundtrack that seems to be telling us exactly how we're supposed to feel.
As I would normally greet the prospect of another Rocky sequel about as enthusiastically as I would an emergency trip to the dental hospital, Creed (4*, 12A, 133mins) comes as a very pleasant surprise. Directed by Ryan Coogler, the movie rediscovers the verve and energy of the original 1976 Rocky by creating a brand new ethnically challenged underdog.
Michael B Jordan plays Adonis 'Donnie' Creed, the son of Rocky Balboa's old friend Apollo Creed. Before he died in the ring at the hands of a Russian hulk in Rocky III, Apollo apparently got about a bit, and Adonis was the result of one of the champ's extramarital affairs. The boy becomes a troubled, angry kid until Apollo's rich widow sportingly decides to adopt him.
Though he ends up in a well-paid financial job, Donnie inherits a love of boxing and sneaks off to Mexico at weekends to appear in clandestine fights. He's pretty good too, and eventually heads north-east to turn pro. In Philadelphia he tracks down his father's old rival Rocky Balboa and manages to persuade him to become his coach.
Creed tells its story with energy, style and heart, and the climactic fight between Donnie and an obnoxious English champion is magnificent. Donnie Creed is a hero you can believe in, and Sylvester Stallone is so good as an older and wiser Rocky that he's being tipped for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar win. Stranger things have happened.
Coming soon... The Big Short (Christian Bale, Steve Carell); Ride Along 2 (Ice Cube, Kevin Hart); Our Brand is Crisis (Sandra Bullock); The 5th Wave (Chloe Moretz).