Sylvester Stallone

“Creed,” Surprisingly, has a Deft Touch

by Ryan Anderson (@randerson_ryan)

I’m as surprised to be writing this as you all are to be reading it, but, here goes: the umpteenth iteration of the “Rocky” series, in theaters now, is actually, (gulp), good, and–wait for it–Sylvester Stallone may be worthy of an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.

Is this bizarro world? No, Ryan Coogler, director, Stallone, as an aged Rocky Balboa, naturally, Michael B. Jordan, Adonis “Donnie” Johnson Creed, and Tessa Thompson, Bianca, combine to make “Creed” a sincere, compelling drama.

Jordan’s Creed is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who battled Balboa so memorably in the original “Rocky” films, and, though he wants to make it on his own in boxing without using his father’s name, he does travel from California to Philadelphia to coax Balboa into training him. Balboa, wasting away in his restaurant, has been out of the fight game for years, but he feels compelled to assist the young lad when he discovers he’s Apollo Creed’s son. He goes about building a raw, angry, and talented young Creed into a legitimate contender, while the training pugilist falls in love with a neighbor, Bianca, a musician with progressive hearing loss.

The main characters are three-dimensional, and Coogler takes his time with the film, so their relationships develop organically according to their natures, not to serve plot contrivances.
I haven’t seen a performance this good and human from Stallone since his emotional role in 1997’s “Cop Land,” and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him nominated for an acting Oscar for only the second time in his career–the original “Rocky” was the other. Let’s face it, he’s mostly been an overgrown cartoon meathead in most of his films; one could certainly argue Stallone’s only legitimately good acting performances are in “Rocky,” “Cop Land,” and “Creed.” But, while Mark Twain told us politicians, prostitutes, and old buildings become respectable with age, we now may need to add Stallone to that list–he’s downright venerable in “Creed.” He underplays with aplomb, embodying heart, grief, and guilt. (more…)