There’s been a lot of talk about racial diversity or, rather, lack thereof, at the Oscars this year. For the second straight year, every acting nomination went to Caucasians and only one minority director was nominated (Innaritu for The Revenant). While I don’t think having black actors or other minorities is a necessity (it should be the people who gave the best performances, regardless of race), it’s very noticeable when you have quality films with quality performances from non-white actors that get ignored. One of the chief examples of this is a little film called Creed, featuring two of the most talented up-and-coming artists in the industry, actor Michael B. Jordan (the show Friday Night Lights) and director Ryan Coogler.
A continuation/spinoff/reboot of the Rocky franchise, Creed opens with kids fighting, quite brutally, in a youth facility. There, you see the seeds of what fuels our lead character Adonis “Donnie,” son of legendary boxer Apollo Creed via an affair. Creed’s widow Mary Anne, played by Phylicia Rashad of The Cosby Show, takes Donnie in, but when he gets older, he can’t shake being a fighter and pursues a boxing career. To do so, he moves to Philadelphia to seek out training from Rocky Balboa, played by who else, Sylvester Stallone. From there, he fights through training and his own demons while befriending an aspiring singer who lives in his apartment building. Rocky meanwhile, fights a battle of his own.
What a wonderful surprise this film is. When they announced a spinoff movie, I thought it was a joke, like one of those “imagine if Hollywood actually made this” type of deals. But after watching Coogler and Jordan’s col-laboration with Fruitvale Station and seeing some of the trailers, I got curious and that curiosity was rewarded. Man, this is a polished flick.
Coogler is wonderful behind the camera. His films thus far feature cinematography that alternates between sleek and gritty, some absolutely gorgeous shots mixed with handheld style angles to reflect the edginess of the material.
There’s one fight sequence where it’s all one shot, zooming in and around the fighters, both beautiful and ugly in the portrayal of a violent sport. It’s a shame he couldn’t have gotten a nod for director (admittedly, this year the field was very tough) but he really does a great job, especially with actors.
Speaking of actors, this flick is full of great performances. Jordan is going to be a star, not necessarily an Oscar winner (something that’s so hard to do, ask Leo) but definitely a star. He manages to portray rage, vulnerability and compassion all packed into one. Tess Thompson (Selma, Veronica Mars) holds her own as the singer Bianca, providing an interesting sub-arc to the film. But the highlight, without a doubt, is Sly. Sure, critics will peg it as not much of a stretch for the guy because he’s played this character before but man, he hits every note perfectly. Funny at times, heartbreaking at others, he absolutely deserved the Golden Globe and I hope he wins come Oscar night.
Creed does have a lot of the usual trappings that sports flicks carry, mainly a relatively predictable narrative. But the touch Coogler puts on this film puts to bed any minor complaints you have while watching. Seriously, for a feel-good, fist-pumping good time, check out Creed. It’s spectacular.