Oakland filmmaker Ryan Coogler — whose acclaimed 2013 feature debut “Fruitvale Station” was the powerful, compassionate true story of Oscar Grant, who died at the hands of BART police in 2009 — has proven he knows something about life.
In his second movie, “Creed,” he adds his passion for movie history and brings new life to the classic “Rocky” series. “Creed” stands tall next to 1976’s original “Rocky.”
In an interview to promote the film, which opens today, Coogler says the idea of two boxers in the ring is a very primal, very visual metaphor.
“If you can fit in the juxtapositions of different emotions, it becomes like life,” he says.
“Creed” tells the story of the illegitimate son of Rocky’s opponent Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers in the first four “Rocky” films.
Adonis (Michael B. Jordan, from “Fruitvale Station”) is a light heavyweight, who, despite being raised by his father’s widow Mary Ann (Phylicia Rashad) in the lap of luxury, feels the need to fight.
He goes to Philadelphia to seek training from the legend himself, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
Coogler asked Stallone only to act, not do anything behind the scenes, in the film, which he co-wrote.
“I wanted to take all those responsibilities off his hands. I wanted him to put all of his genius into acting,” Coogler says. “He’s a special artist. His skill level is off the charts. You get that as soon as you meet him.”
Coogler took inspiration not just from the “Rocky” series, but from the 1946 movie “Body and Soul” and from Stanley Kubrick’s very early boxing photography. Even “On the Waterfront,” which contains no boxing scenes, but in which Marlon Brando plays a boxer, was an influence.
“For me it’s all about contrast,” he says. “There’s so much loss and pain, and at the same time, so much beauty and hope.”
He describes how Adonis has six fights in the movie: three physical ones in the ring, and three emotional one with people he loves.
Each shows him learning and growing, as a professional and as a man.
The key way in which boxing becomes like life, Coogler explains, is that “The only way that you can hit your opponent is to get close enough to be hit yourself, and the only way that you can love somebody is to get close enough.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad
Written by Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Running time 2 hours, 12 minutes