Creed. Is. Extraordinary
This was the text I sent to a friend of mine once I left the cinema. I suspected I was going to enjoy this film, but the reality was that it places in my favourite films of all time. There are very few movies in which I have the feeling ‘I know I’m going to enjoy this’ from the opening shot, the drumming over Birdman’s opening credits is one example, but the tracking shot into the cafeteria in the juvenile delinquency facility showed me two things.
Firstly, Ryan Coogler knows how to set up his scenes. Secondly, Ryan Coogler knows how to build tension. It would have been easy to simply cut into the cafeteria, but to follow the guard sprinting at the sound of the alarm created panic and the melee of guards and boys added to the chaos. The direction of the entire film was masterful, though this makes sense as Coogler conceptualised, wrote, then carried out his filmic vision; the man knew what he wanted from every shot of the movie, and it showed.
Another moment of genius was the temporary pause over each boxer that Adonis is going to fight. The “table of statistics” could have been gimmicky or video-game like, yet it worked. It showed a progression of Adonis’ career but also allowed the audience to see quite how formidable his opponents were without clumsy lines of exposition.
For me, there are two skills which elevate a director from good to excellent and Coogler demonstrated an expert use of both throughout the film. These are the ability to effectively utilise tracking shots and the use of silence. There were two notable tracking shots in this film, aside from the tone setting opening. The first is in Adonis’ first major fight with Sporino. I have never seen boxing shot like this before. From the moment Adonis steps into the ring, the camera tracks around and around him and Sporino, allowing the audience a rare insight into the rotational nature of the fights.
The camerawork was immersive and intense, making it feel as though the fight was mere inches away, rather than a more traditional cutting back and forth. Another recent boxing movie, Southpaw, filmed boxing innovatively, placing the camera where the actor’s face was so the audience viscerally felt the punches. Coogler’s technique helped show a different side to boxing: where Southpaw was showing Billy Hope’s brutality and aggression, this film wanted to show Adonis’ speed and agility, so the circular tracking fit perfectly. It always delights me when a director has the foresight and vision to plan and execute a tracking shot so well, and it’s a significant part of why I loved this film so much.
The second tracking shot functioned totally differently, proving yet again, that Coogler’s control of filmmaking is superb. The camera tracks a visibly nervous Adonis over roughly a minute from his dressing room to the ring in his fight with Conlan. Without cutting away, the camera tracks through light and dark, behind Adonis and Balboa with the ever-present chanting becoming increasingly louder. The claustrophobia induced by the camerawork as Adonis emerges from the darkness and suddenly the crowd is ubiquitous and booing created as much tension as is possible to generate in film. The seemingly endless crowd chant and jeer at Adonis and the camera positioning makes it feel as though they’re shouting at the audience as well.
In all the films I’ve seen, I’ve never felt such animosity in a comparable scenario. The final piece of direction worthy of express praise was Coogler’s use of silence. So often in action films, the directors feel the need to have music or dialogue ceaselessly to increase drama: I gain respect for directors who have the courage to use silence, because it often works better in my opinion. The silence and slow motion following Conlan’s potential knockout of Adonis was palpably uncomfortable in the cinema, but I applaud Coogler all the more for this. The shot lasted what felt like 15 seconds, and was so beautifully crafted that I found myself not breathing throughout its entirety.
I must also mention the acting, because it is also of the highest class. All three of Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone and Tessa Thompson delivered top notch performances, aided by a nuanced and developed script. Stallone was given the chance to ACT rather than just muscularly punch people/objects/general irritations and he succeeds like no-one thought he could. Two particular moments of brilliance include the graveyard scene and the locker room scene, the latter of which had me tearing up.
Jordan portrays Adonis Creed with a nuanced combination of pride and shame, of power and vulnerability: Adonis was a believable, complex human whose scenes with Tessa Thompson were a joy to behold. Thompson in her own right was a strong-willed, powerful female character who didn’t simper and fall for Adonis instantly and didn’t accept him when he made a mistake: she had her own problems and the solution to those problems and the solutions to those problems was not “have a relationship” like so many films released in this era.
The score was also commendable, mixing original Rocky music with modern rap and R&B. I actually felt as though the original Rocky music was out of place in this film, and was restrictive rather than helpful. Overall, however, the music brilliantly melded with the cinematography, providing several moments of nostalgia, pathos and happiness all rolled into one big tear-duct-stimulating ball (I did get a little cry-y yes…).
One particular moment was when Adonis runs along the Philadelphia streets in a scene showing him metaphorically accepting his roots and heritage and racing alongside motorbikes and quad bikes. The upwelling of sound as he calls Rocky at a window and continues to yell while the music covers over the words was aesthetically gorgeous and emotionally poignant.
Though this has been left open for a sequel, I’m almost hoping that one isn’t produced. This film was so excellent as a standalone that I worry that sequels would diminish its power and originality. That said, Creed is not only my favourite “sports” movie ever, which seems an unhelpful genre classification anyway, but is an easy choice to put in my top 5 movies I’ve ever seen. I cannot wait for more of Coogler’s work, and await Michael B. Jordan’s rise to when he will undoubtedly be one of the greatest actors of our generations.