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Creed

The original “Rocky” was a quintessentially American story that, despite its many flaws (I find it barely watchable) connected with its audience on a fundamental level, because it was about a likable underdog for whom boxing is the only way out of his dead-end life. Rocky doesn’t have much going for him — he’s not smart, or rich, or particularly talented — but he takes down the champ on the strength of his heart.  We Americans eat this stuff up.

I think it’s impressive that “Creed” writer/director Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”) didn’t just lift those themes from the original — the way all the sequels, and almost all boxing movies since “Rocky” have — but found new ways to make his story compelling.  This isn’t the story about an loser from the wrong side of town; it’s about a kid with lives in a posh mansion, who quits a lucrative job, and who finds a former heavyweight champion to be his trainer. While his big fight may come before he’s ready for it, career-wise, the odds are certainly in his favor.

That kid is Adonis Creed, illegitmate (what an ugly word) son of Apollo Creed.  He never knew his father, and barely knew his mother.  When we first meet him, he is picking fights with much bigger kids in a group home.  Felicia Rashad, playing Apollo’s widow, swoops in and saves him, and raises him in the lap of luxury, off money Apollo made getting beat to death.

So what makes us root for this kid anyway? Well, it doesn’t hurt that Adonis Creed is played by Michael B. Jordan, one of the most charismatic and likable actors in Hollywood today.  You almost can’t help but root for him. But even beyond that, I think Coogler has done a fantastic, insightful job of redefining Rocky’s central plight.  Creed, like Rocky, wants to be somebody.  He needs to prove that he wasn’t a mistake. Rocky did that by boxing his way out of the Philadelphia projects; Creed does it by boxing his way into his family name.  In that way, I wonder if “Creed” isn’t the Rocky story updated for millenials, who have a lot more (both in terms of wealth and options) than their parents, but still struggle to define themselves as individuals.

Back in March, “Creed” was at the very center of the “Oscars So White” protests: here’s an excellent film with a black director, an almost entirely black cast, and who gets the Oscar?  The one white guy in the mix.  There’s certainly merit to that argument; in my mind, Coogler and Jordan both deserved nominations.  But I’m afraid it overshadows the fact that Stallone gives what is probably the best performance of his career here.  As a lost Rocky, living in the past, deeply missing all the people who have died, including his best friend, his trainer, his wife, and his brother-in-law, he gives a very fine, carefully modulated, subtle and powerful performance.  And so I don’t think it was injustice that he received the nomination.  “Creed” deserved more Oscar attention, not less.  This is a very fine film.

 

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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