Creed • Brooklyn
December 3, 2015
It wouldn’t be fair to refer to director/co-writer Ryan Coogler’s film Creed as merely another entry in the Rocky franchise. Early reports on the film even went so far as to call the film, Rocky VII, but that would be doing the film a great disservice. Creed is that rare bird that can stand on its own while also remaining true to the franchise roots from which it sprang. As a stand-alone film it definitely works and as a part of the Rocky series of films, well, let’s just say it’s the best one to hit the screens in about thirty-three years, Rocky III being the last entry to even come close in terms of quality.
One of the most surprising things about the film, from a creative standpoint, at least, was the choice to allow an up and coming filmmaker to take over the reigns of the beloved franchise. Series star Sylvester Stallone has always taken on the scripting duties for the Rocky films and for the most part it’s been a tried and true formula that has worked, sometimes in spite of itself. Although Coogler doesn’t really take the franchise to any new territory, there’s still a sense of freshness that permeates the film. It would be easy enough to dismiss yet another Rocky film but when it works—which is quite often—it definitely works and that’s a testament to Coogler and his cinematic co-conspirators.
The plot revolves around the illegitimate son of Rocky’s former foe turned friend and trainer, Apollo Creed.
Sylvester Stallone & Michael B. Jordan in Creed
It seems that the elder Creed had a tryst that resulted in a son—Adonis (Michael B. Jordan)—that he never knew, as Apollo died at the hands of Russian boxer Ivan Drago, in the fourth Rocky film. Adonis bounced around from foster home to foster home until Creed’s widow took the boy in. Now a young adult, Adonis looks to the past to forge a path to the future, as he seeks the aid of Rocky Balboa (Stallone, of course) in his training to become a boxer.
Adonis moves to Philadelphia and into a flea bag apartment in order to enlist Rocky’s assistance and simultaneously finds love with Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring singer who lives in his building and is fighting her own personal battles.
Stallone’s performance as Rocky in the film, it must be noted, is probably his best turn as the character since the original hit screens some thirty-nine years ago. In a scene near the midway point of the film I felt myself getting emotional when the beloved character explains how hard it is to go on in life when your loved ones have died and left you behind. The scene reminded me that Stallone is capable of acting as opposed to doing a caricature and it was refreshing to note.
If there’s a complaint to be made about the film it would be that it does fall prey to some of the formula trappings of the series and may be a bit overlong by about fifteen minutes. Still, it’s a rousing addition to the Rocky series that can’t be simply dismissed.
Brooklyn (*** ½) PG-13
I’ll make a confession and say that I do believe I’m getting to the point where a film’s selling point only need be the title card: Screenplay by Nick Hornby. Oh, I’ve always admired the British author’s books and film adaptations in the past, to be sure. Now, with Hornby’s one-two punch of having scripted one of my ten favorite films from last year (Wild) and having served in the same capacity for a film that’s certain to make the list for another consecutive year, I’m in for whatever project in which the writer is ensconced.
To be fair, Hornby’s writing contribution to the film, lovingly adapted from the novel by Colm Toibin, is only one of the artistic contributions, which plays a part in its effectiveness. Credit must equally be given to director John Crowley and the film’s star, Saoirse Ronan, who breathe real life into the film.
Ronan’s performance, in particular, is a revelation. She was quite effective right from the beginning when she gained traction for her performance in Affliction nearly a decade ago.
Saorise Ronan & Emory Cohen, Brooklyn
She was a child actress then but in Brooklyn she’s every bit the young adult that she’s portraying onscreen and is incredibly adept at conveying the emotional catharsis that the lead character goes through during the film’s unspooling. It’s a performance that deserves to be remembered come Oscar time and should give some of the early favorites like Jennifer Lawrence a run for their money.
The film’s setting is the early 1950s. Ellis Lacey (Ronan) dreams of journeying to American and away from her small Irish town, a place that is filled with not atypical small minds and small ideas. Ellis gets her chance when one of the local clergy arranges for her to make the journey to Brooklyn. At first, Ellis is unsure of her place in her new surroundings but gradually finds her footing with both the help of a local priest (Jim Broadbent) and through a romance with an Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen, equally good here) that she chances to meet at a dance. Just as things are looking up for Ellis, a tragedy at home threatens to put her back into the surroundings of her humble beginnings and forces the young girl to make a choice which forms the crux of the film’s final act.
Brooklyn is a beautifully made film that is not afraid to tackle the larger truths about ourselves that most have dealt with at some point or another. It’s the kind of film that presents emotionally complex situations that have no easy answers. It’s the kind of film I’ve been waiting for all year.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.