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Film review: Room – Brie Larson gives Oscar-winning performance as young captive mother

Sensitive handling and superb cinematography and design combine with nuanced performance in this story of the triumph of love in the face of evil

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 March, 2016, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 March, 2016, 4:52pm

Irish director Lenny Abrahamson has always found stories in the margins. Garage’s protagonist had learning difficulties; What Richard Did dealt with teenage murder; Frank was about music and mental illness; and now there’s Room, which won lead actress Brie Larson an Oscar while walking an impossibly thin tightrope.

Larson delivers a dignified, nuanced turn as Ma – seven years incarcerated in a tiny room by a barely-seen kidnapper she names Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Every night, he unlocks the door to bring her supplies and to force himself upon her. All that’s keeping her from going insane is Jack (Jacob Tremblay, remarkable), her five-year-old son – the product of her captor’s sexual assault.

READ ALSO: Rising star Brie Larson talks to SCMP about her award-winning turn in Room

Adapted by first-time screenwriter Emma Donoghue from her own best-selling novel, on the surface this is a grim tale of kidnapping, nightly rape and torment that has no right being as uplifting as it is. Playing like the B-side to Michael, Markus Schleinzer’s 2011 film seen through the eyes of a predator, it’s the cast-iron bond between Ma and Jack that provides the film’s much-needed emotional sustenance.

Credit is due to cinematographer Danny Cohen and production designer Ethan Tobman, who combine brilliantly to capture the claustrophobia of being in a confined space. Details, like the sun shining through the skylight, really register – and emotionally so.

The film boasts a plot development half-way through, which sends the second part spinning in an entirely different (and not always successful) direction. But Abrahamson is never less than sensitive in his handling, never close to exploitation. It’s a tough film, not easy to watch but equally hard to take your eyes off.

Room opens on March 3

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