Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Short Take: Creed

Creed, the seventh picture in the Rocky franchise, is easily the most compelling since the original 1976 film. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) isn't the central character this time out. The story instead focuses on the illegitimate son (Michael B. Jordan) of Rocky's boxing nemesis and best friend Apollo Creed. The son was raised by Creed's widow (Phylicia Rashad) from adolescence on, and she's done everything possible to steer him away from a prizefighter's life. But he cannot resolve his feelings towards the father he never knew. Determined to claim his father's legacy for himself, he relocates to Rocky's hometown of Philadelphia, and convinces the long-retired boxer to train him. Director Ryan Coogler, working from a script credited to him and Aaron Covington, follows the traditional outline of sports genre pictures: the story is about the against-the-odds rise of a champion. That said, the familiar scenes are freshly imagined and played. While the story may be largely on autopilot, the director and the actors aren't. Coogler gives the boxing matches an intense, kinetic urgency, and he maintains a relaxed, engaging rhythm in the scenes outside the ring. Michael B. Jordan strikes a finely nuanced balance between his character's obsessive drive and the tender rapports he develops with both Rocky and a singer girlfriend (Tessa Thompson). Stallone gives a dry poignance to his signature role. He takes a viewer right inside the resigned loneliness of the character's twilight days, and the reticence at embracing the younger man's dreams. Maryse Alberti provided the vibrant cinematography. Her atmospheric treatment of the Philadelphia locations is especially striking.

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